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UK’s obesity strategy welcomed after Covid-19 ‘wake-up call’

Chris Radburn/PA Wire

By Tom Pilgrim, PA

Doctors, charities and campaigners have hailed the UK Government’s new obesity strategy as a “huge step in the right direction” after the Covid-19 pandemic “wake-up call” over the state of the nation’s health.

Plans for measures such as banning junk food adverts on TV before 9pm and restricting in-store promotion of unhealthy foods have been welcomed by experts.

Awaiting more detail on the Government’s proposals, they urged swift action to build a healthier population after years of “dither and delay”..”

TV chef Jamie Oliver, who has campaigned to tackle child obesity for 20 years, praised Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s “bold” aims to encourage Britons to lose weight.

“This is a huge step in the right direction,” he said.

Mr Oliver said children from the country’s poorest communities were “most at risk”, adding that “having access to varied and healthier food plays a vital part in keeping us healthy and resilient”..”

He continued: “I have worked with five prime ministers to develop a proper child obesity strategy – including school meals and the sugar tax where all income is reinvested in our primary schools – and after years of delay, we finally have a solid strategy that is moving things forward.”

Mr Oliver said “the devil will be in the detail” of the Government’s strategy, emphasising it needed to maintain momentum to achieve its aim of halving child obesity by 2030.

But Tam Fry, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, said the Government’s plans were “not enough to see an end to the national emergency that obesity is”..”

Mr Fry said the Prime Minister had “completely disregarded” former chief medical officer Prof Dame Sally Davies’s October 2019 report on childhood obesity.

“Her 49 recommendations, taken together, did have a fighting chance of doing what the doctor ordered but Johnson’s meagre list falls woefully short,” he said.

Chris Askew, chief executive at charity Diabetes UK, said the coronavirus pandemic had “brought into sharp focus the vast human cost we pay as a result of our unhealthy environment”..”

“People living with obesity or excess weight are at a significant risk of numerous health conditions, and many go on to experience poorer health outcomes,” he said.

Mr Askew highlighted that more than 12 million people are at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Welcoming the Government’s strategy, he urged “swift action”, adding: “We need to stop putting profits before our nation’s health.”

Prof Dame Parveen Kumar, Board of Science chairwoman at the British Medical Association, the doctors’ trade union, said: “Becoming obese can have a devastating impact on the health and wellbeing of our patients – it increases the risk of dreadful diseases such as diabetes, cancer and, as we’ve recently discovered, the severity of Covid-19.”

“As the Government’s new strategy recognises, this has been a real ‘wake-up call’ for the nation, and it’s imperative that we use this opportunity to make changes for good, not only for society today, but also for generations to come.”

She said some of the measures proposed, such as potential alcohol calorie labelling, could be part of “kickstarting a health revolution for the nation”..”

Dr Kate Allen, executive director of science and public affairs at the World Cancer Research Fund charity, highlighted that one in five children start primary school overweight or obese, rising to one in three by the time they leave.

She said: “It is great news that the plans include a 9pm watershed on junk food ads, which will protect a child’s right to the highest attainable standard of health, which includes a healthy diet.”

Katharine Jenner, campaign director at charity Action on Sugar and Action on Salt, said: “We are delighted that the Government has finally recognised that these huge food and drink companies have not been acting in our best interests when they advertise and discount their heavily processed, high in fat, salt and sugar, food and drinks.”

“This will be hard to stomach for many of them, but for the more responsible companies, this is an opportunity to build back better, making and promoting healthier options.”

But she said it was a “missed opportunity” not to introduce “mandatory targets” on removing sugar and salt calories from products and that it was “absurd” the soft drinks levy was not extended to other sugary foods and drinks.

June O’Sullivan, CEO of nursery operator London Early Years Foundation, said it was “imperative” that nutrition standards in early years education were mandated and chefs were taught about nutritious cooking.

“It’s unacceptable that some nurseries are inadvertently adding to the obesity problem by serving meals dangerously high in fat, salt and sugar – and we therefore need a radical wake up,” she said.

The IPPR think tank called on the Government to implement its “ambitious” policy ideas “as quickly as possible”..”

Senior research fellow Chris Thomas said: “The Covid-19 lockdown demonstrated that the UK public support proportionate interventions that protect their health.”

He added: “The last 10 years have often seen good strategies ruined by dither and delay – to the detriment of our health. Indecision must not creep into the process this time round.”