Overweight people are being asked to lose five pounds to save the NHS money and help lower the risk of dying from coronavirus as part of the Government’s new obesity crackdown.
Boris Johnson, when he unveils his obesity strategy on Monday, will signal an end to confectionery displays at store checkouts and ban junk food adverts on TV before 9pm as he looks to encourage Britons to shed the pounds.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock, writing in the Telegraph, set anybody classed as overweight a goal.
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
He said: “If everyone who is overweight lost five pounds it could save the NHS over £100 million over the next five years.
“And more importantly, given the link between obesity and coronavirus, losing weight could be lifesaving.”
The Prime Minister has already revealed how his own brush with Covid-19, which saw him require intensive care in April, convinced him of the need to tackle Britain’s bulging waistlines.
Two-thirds of UK adults are above a healthy weight, according to Government data, and one in three children aged 10 to 11 are overweight or obese.
Mr Johnson told BBC News on Friday: “One thing, by the way, that I think did make a difference – for me and for quite a few others – is the issue, frankly, of being overweight.
“And that’s why we need to tackle our national struggle with obesity.”
Mr Johnson, who said he has lost a stone since his illness, has argued that being “fitter and healthier” would help people to “withstand coronavirus” and protect the NHS.
This week’s “Better Health” plan comes as evidence linking excess weight with a higher risk of severe illness from coronavirus has grown.
A Public Health England (PHE) study discovered that being classed as medically obese increased the risk of death from coronavirus by 40%.
The headline changes due to be announced as part of the waist-tackling campaign include banning “buy one, get one free” promotions on crisps and chocolate and outlawing supermarkets from tempting shoppers with unhealthy snacks at checkouts and store entrances.
Restaurants will have to display the calories contained in items on menus and there will be a consultation into doing the same for alcohol.
As part of the programme, NHS weight loss services are to be expanded, with a 12-week weight loss app set to be unveiled, following in the footsteps of the popular Couch to 5k running app.
GPs will be encouraged to prescribe bike rides, with patients in pilot areas to be given access to bikes.
Doctors will also get pay incentives for the number of people referred to slimming clubs and online weight loss programmes, according to the Telegraph.
The Prime Minister 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.”
The highly interventionist approach marks a U-turn for Mr Johnson, who until recently has been a vocal opponent of “sin taxes” and perceived “nannying” by the state.
But Mr Johnson looks to have dropped his libertarian stance for a plan designed to save the NHS time and money while also helping to reduce the number of Covid-19 deaths in a possible second wave of infections.
In a speech due to be shared on social media, Mr Johnson will propose the introduction of new laws to ban junk food advertising on television and online before 9pm and ministers will also hold a consultation on whether the internet ban should apply at all times of day.
As well as banning so-called “Bogof” promotions of junk food, supermarkets will be legally barred from displaying confectionery and other high-in-fat foods in prominent locations in stores.
Calorie labelling measures will also require restaurants and takeaways with more than 250 employees to declare calorie contents in the food they sell and a consultation will be launched to determine whether similar guidance is required on alcohol.
Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at PHE, which will lead the campaign, said: “These plans are ambitious and rightly so.
“Tackling obesity will help prevent serious illness and save lives.”
The Obesity Health Alliance, a coalition of more than 40 leading health organisations, medical royal colleges and campaign groups, praised the targeting of promotional offers.
But UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls criticised the timing of the extra impositions on restaurants and pubs.
“As we focus on securing jobs and helping the economy and communities to recover, a raft of costs and regulatory burdens would be a slap in the face,” she said.
Labour shadow health minister Alex Norris, criticising the three consultations announced in the strategy, said: “We’ve had big promises before from Tory ministers on banning junk food advertising only for measures to be kicked into the long grass of consultation.
“But an effective obesity strategy needs action, not consultation.”