Policy briefing

Obesity strategy: steps for tackling a public health crisis

Government’s plan to get the nation fit, protect against COVID-19 and ease strain on the NHS

The governments plan to get the nation fit, protect against COVID-19 and ease strain on the NHS

The campaign will encourage people to be more active in managing their weight

Essential information

Obesity is one of the biggest health crises the country faces, according to the government .

Living with obesity reduces life expectancy and increases the chance of serious illness such as cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Public Health England (PHE) says tackling obesity is particularly important now, with the risk to patients of serious illness or death from COVID-19 rising as body mass index (BMI) increases.

Whats new

A raft of measures have been revealed under the

The government’s plan to get the nation fit, protect against COVID-19 and ease strain on the NHS

The campaign will encourage people to be more active in managing their weight

Essential information

Obesity is one of the biggest health crises the country faces, according to the government.

Living with obesity reduces life expectancy and increases the chance of serious illness such as cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Public Health England (PHE) says tackling obesity is particularly important now, with the risk to patients of serious illness or death from COVID-19 rising as body mass index (BMI) increases.

What’s new

A raft of measures have been revealed under the government’s new obesity strategy to get the nation fit and healthy, protect people against COVID-19 and reduce the strain on the NHS.

Rather than targeting childhood obesity only, the strategy for England focuses on empowering adults to lose weight as well.

The government says the COVID-19 crisis has acted as a ‘wake-up call’ to encourage people to look after their health and get active.

New legislation will ban TV and online advertisements for food high in fat, sugar and salt before 9pm across the whole of the UK. This should be in force by the end of 2022.

Laws will also be introduced to end deals such as ‘buy one get one free’ on unhealthy food high in salt, sugar and fat.

New rules on displaying calories on menus will help people make healthier choices when eating out.

There will be a consultation on whether to stop online fast food advertisements altogether, plus a review of ‘traffic light’ labelling on food and drinks sold in shops.

The strategy is being launched alongside a new Better Health campaign, led by PHE, which will call on people to embrace a healthier lifestyle and lose weight, supported by evidence-based tools and apps.

These tools will enable people to check their BMI and gain access to free support, including the NHS 12-week weight loss plan.

PHE is also working with well-known weight management providers that will be offering exclusive discounts across their programmes.

The policies are intended to empower people to make healthier choices and offer NHS support to people who are overweight and want to lose weight. They represent a shift in healthcare to greater focus on public health and prevention, the government says.

Key points for nurses

  • Helping individuals achieve and maintain a healthy weight is one of the most important aspects of improving the collective health of the nation.
  • Obesity prevalence is highest among the most deprived groups in society. Children in the most deprived parts of the country are more than twice as likely to be obese as their peers living in the most affluent areas.
  • Some people from black, Asian and minority ethnic populations are susceptible to obesity-related diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, at a lower weight status than white populations.
  • Excess weight is one of the few modifiable factors for COVID-19.
  • The government will offer all primary care networks the opportunity for staff to become healthy weight coaches through training delivered by PHE.
  • People most at risk of developing type 2 diabetes will be offered access to a ‘high impact’ weight loss scheme as part of an expansion of the NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme, with a particular emphasis on areas most affected by COVID-19.

Expert comment

Helen Donovan, RCN professional lead for public health:

‘Nursing staff see the impact of obesity every day. These policies are long overdue and something for which nursing staff have long campaigned.

‘Obesity is a contributing factor in a number of detrimental, long-term conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease. There is increasing evidence obesity is also a risk factor for COVID-19.

‘Policies need to be backed by substantial investment’

‘There are clear links between obesity, associated poor health outcomes and wider social inequalities such as poverty and education.

‘We are pleased to see the prime minister take our nation’s health seriously, but the government’s work to reduce obesity rates shouldn’t stop here. Policies need to be backed by substantial investment to make up for cuts in recent years.

‘A strategy to reduce wider health inequalities that have been exposed by this pandemic would help councils plan services that are accessible to the people who need them.’

Erin Dean is a health journalist


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