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Nurses have welcomed the publication of the government’s new obesity strategy and described the measures as “long overdue”.
The plan comes in the wake of evidence showing that being overweight puts people at greater risk of severe complications and death from Covid-19.
Being above the ‘healthy’ body mass index range is also a risk factor for a range of other chronic conditions including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, some cancers, and respiratory disease.
The new measures will be backed by legislation and include a ban on the advertising of food high in fat, sugar or salt on television and online before 9pm, with proposals to extend this to all hours.
There will also be restrictions put in place on the extent to which shops can promote unhealthy foods, while mandatory calorie labelling is also due to come into force.
In addition, the government has announced plans to expand NHS weight management services including more self-care apps and “accelerating” the NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme.
“These policies are long overdue and something for which nursing staff have long campaigned”
From next year, doctors will be offered “incentives” to ensure people who are classed as obese are given support for weight loss.
Primary care nurses and other staff will be offered the chance to undergo training with Public Health England (PHE) to become “healthy weight coaches”.
The strategy is being launched alongside a new public awareness campaign called Better Health, which will be led by PHE, and will encourage people to lose weight, get active and eat better.
Prime minister Boris Johnson said: “Losing weight is hard but with some small changes we can all feel fitter and healthier.
“If we all do our bit, we can reduce our health risks and protect ourselves against coronavirus – as well as taking pressure off the NHS.”
Helen Donovan, professional lead for public health at the Royal College of Nursing, welcomed the new proposals but said “substantial investment” was needed to make up for previous cuts.
“Nursing staff see the impact of obesity every day. These policies are long overdue and something for which nursing staff have long campaigned,” she said.
She highlighted the “clear links” between obesity and social inequality issues such as poverty and education and said the government’s work to reduce obesity rates in the UK “shouldn’t stop here”.
“Policies need to be backed by substantial investment to make up for cuts in recent years,” said Ms Donovan.
“A strategy to reduce wider health inequalities which have been exposed by this pandemic would help councils plan services that are accessible to the people who need them.”
Also welcoming the strategy was Chris Askew, chief executive at Diabetes UK.
He said the pandemic had brought into “sharp focus the vast human cost we pay as a result of our unhealthy environment”.
“The time to act on this is now,” warned Mr Askew. “We need to stop putting profits before our nation’s health.
“Implemented fully, the measures outlined in this strategy will be a significant step in the right direction.”
The British Medical Association (BMA) said it had long called for new measures to tackle obesity and it was glad the government had “sat up and listened.”
Professor Dame Parveen Kumar, BMA board of science chair, said the strategy now needed to be “actioned as quickly as possible”, with the expansion to NHS services “delivered in full, with adequate resources and funding”.
“Implemented fully, the measures outlined in this strategy will be a significant step in the right direction”
Meanwhile, Adam Briggs, senior policy fellow at the Health Foundation think tank, said the steps announced today were “positive” but were unlikely to address the “root causes” of obesity.
“A credible strategy would go further to modify the environment and the circumstances in which we live – the multiple factors that shape whether we can be active or eat healthily,” he added.
“It would acknowledge the role of economic and social factors like poverty and unemployment that drive poor health and inequalities, and the impact of year-on-year cuts to local authority budgets.
“It would use the range of powerful levers that the government has at its disposal to implement evidence-based practical solutions – from more space for cycling and walking to restricting fast food outlets near schools – which have broad public support.”