Obesity campaign branded ‘stigmatising’ by eating disorder specialists

The 'Better Health' campaign has been branded 'ridiculous' and 'stigmatising'. Credit: PA

Words by ITV News Multimedia Producer Kate Mead

Charities supporting people with eating disorders have hit out at the government’s‘Better Health’ campaign branding it “stigmatising” and “shaming”.

The government launched its campaign to tackle obesity on Monday including a raftof plans to slim down Britain.

The move comes after Boris Johnson revealed his own brush with Covid-19, which saw him require intensive care in April, and it convinced him of the need to tackle Britain’s obesity problem.

Plans include banning junk food television advertising before 9pm, GP-prescribed bike rides and encouraging restaurants to print calorie values on their menus.

Tom Quinn, Director of External Affairs for the charity Beat Eating Disorders said that he was concerned that the campaign would have a "significant impact" on people's mental health.

"We acknowledge the importance of reducing obesity but we have major concerns about the campaign," he said.

"The language the campaign uses is stigmatising in the way it is emphasising the urgency of tackling obesity. Using words like ‘war on obesity’ or ‘protect the NHS, save lives’ can make people who are already stigmatised for having obesity feel pressurised and shamed."

He also criticised specific elements of the drive, in particular the labelling of calories on menus, which he said had "limited evidence" that it has "any discerning impact" on helping people's weight-loss.

"We know that people with anorexia are already likely to be restricting food and this could make them restrict even further," he said.

"It could also affect people with binge eating disorder and people who overeat and could cause them to eat more not less."

He said that he was disappointed that Beat and other organisations were not consulted by the government, adding: "We have written to Number 10 and so far we have not received any response.

"We are concerned that this campaign will have a significant impact on people with eating disorders and we believe it needs to be reviewed."

Mr Quinn said there was limited evidence to suggest putting calories on menus helped with weight loss. Credit: PA

Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses and 1.25 million people are estimated to suffer with it in the UK.

Counsellor Bernadette Wright, who has supported people with eating disorders at the National Centre for Eating Disorders said the campaign made her "angry" and that specialists like her should have been consulted by the government.

"Dieting doesn’t work, ever, and fear is not a motivator," she said. "We are just going to shame people to get on diet plans, which is ridiculous."

"What is needed is kindness and compassionate and not fear tactics or shaming."

The plan comes as evidence has begun to mount linking excess weight with a higher risk of severe illness from coronavirus.

Two-thirds (63%) of UK adults are above a healthy weight, with 36% overweight and 28% obese, according to government data.

A Public Health England (PHE) study published on Saturday discovered that being classed as medically obese increased the risk of death from coronavirus by 40%.

In a video filmed by Number 10 and released on his Twitter account, Boris Johnson admitted he was “too fat” when he was struck down by coronavirus.