COVID-19 wake-up call for UK obesity strategy

The UK government today launches its latest plan to reduce obesity and to help people live healthier lives. Tackling obesity comes at a time when evidence consistently demonstrates a link between obesity and worse outcomes from contracting COVID-19.

The measures set out in the plan include a ban before 9pm on both broadcast and online ads for foods high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS); restrictions on HFSS in-store promotions; calorie-labelling on food packaging, with alcohol likely to follow; and an expansion of NHS weight management and diabetes prevention services.

Part of the strategy includes a Better Health campaign, with a new NHS Weight Loss Plan app. The app joins other Public Health England apps such as the One You Couch to 5K app, which was downloaded by 858,000 people from the beginning of March to the end of June.

People who are at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes can now gain rapid access to the Healthier You NHS Diabetes Prevention programme. Using an online tool hosted by Diabetes UK, people can calculate their risk and to refer themselves to a local Healthier You service for support remotely or online, without having to go through a healthcare professional. The service is delivered either as group consultations with a coach by phone or video,  or through digital support, which includes online peer support groups and in some areas, wearable tech.

It was already well-known that the majority of adults in the UK are overweight or obese, and that excess weight is a risk factor for many chronic diseases including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. While obesity does not increase the probability of contracting COVID-19, data shows that obese people – and especially those with type 2 diabetes – are significantly more likely to become seriously ill and be admitted to intensive care with COVID-19 compared to those with a healthy BMI. A third of people who died in hospital from COVID-19 had diabetes.

NHS Chief Executive Sir Simon Stevens said: “The evidence is now in: severe obesity can double your chance of dying from coronavirus. So this pandemic is a call to arms to adopt medically-proven changes in what we eat and how we exercise.”