The UK government is set to unveil a plan to tackle obesity as evidence grows showing its link to increased COVID-19 illness and death, the BBC reported on 27 July.
Almost 8% of critically ill patients in intensive care units with the virus have been morbidly obese compared with 2.9% of the general population, according to government statistics
A review of evidence by Public Health England, reported by the BBC on 25 July, found that being obese or overweight increased the risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19, and that risk grew substantially as weight increased.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the plans would help "reduce our health risks and protect ourselves against coronavirus".
The plan would include restrictions on where foods high in fat and sugar can be promoted in shops and new rules for displaying calories on menus, the BBC said. Unhealthy ‘buy one, get one free’ deals would also be targeted.
A UK-wide ban on junk food adverts before 9pm had also been confirmed and the government said there would be a consultation on a total ban on fast food advertising online.
Labelling of calories on menus would apply to any restaurant, cafe or takeaway chain with more than 250 employees, and there would be another consultation around plans to provide the same information for alcoholic drinks.
The move marked a change of approach by the Prime Minister, who had previously criticised taxes on foods high in salt, fat and sugar, the BBC said.
However, Johnson’s experience in intensive care during his treatment for COVID-19 was thought to have contributed to his changing position.
“We all put things off – I know I have. I’ve wanted to lose weight for ages and like many people I struggle with my weight,” he wrote in the Daily Express.
“I go up and down, but during the whole coronavirus epidemic and when I got it too, I realised how important it is not to be overweight."
However, the Advertising Association’s director of public affairs Sue Eustace said the ‘extreme’ and ‘unnecessary’ measures would have little effect on reducing obesity, and warned they could have ‘wide-ranging ramifications’ for food businesses and online publishers trying to financially recover from the pandemic and the lockdown.
"We have some of the strictest [advertising] rules in the world already and children's exposure to high fat, salt, and sugar adverts on TV has fallen by 70% over the last 15 years or so, but there's been no change to obesity, so we don't think these measures are going to work,” Eustace told BBC 5 Live’s Wake Up to Money programme.
Other measures would include increased NHS weight management services, including online tools and ‘healthy weight coaches’ to support patients along with a national campaign to help people lose weight and eat more healthily.
GPs would be encouraged to prescribe exercise such as cycling and other activities and next year doctors would be offered incentives to provide help for people who are obese.
The moves were welcomed by health experts, however, they said the government should have gone even further.
Adam Briggs, of the Health Foundation think-tank, said the strategy was "likely to be a missed opportunity".
There were multiple factors contributing to obesity, he said, adding it was important to also address the role economic and social factors including poverty and unemployment that ‘drive poor health and inequalities’.
The UK had one of the highest levels of obesity in Europe, the BBC said, with almost two-thirds of adults in England overweight or obese, with similar figures in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.