The UK government is to spend £100m to help families tackle obesity and maintain a healthier lifestyle.
The move comes after the Prime Minister Boris Johnson famously drew attention to his own bulging waistline after catching Covid-19 at the height of the pandemic in the summer of 2020. When asked how to protect against Covid, he replied: “Don’t be a fatty.”
The illness was so serious for Johnson that he needed intensive care treatment at one of Britain’s top health care specialist centres, St Thomas’ Hospital in London. At one point there were even fears that he might not survive.
The sudden health scare was something of an epiphany for Johnson because once he recovered, he became determined to lose weight and improve his fitness. It seems he took this so seriously that he even faced criticism later for cycling seven miles away from his home, two miles further than the five-mile limit imposed by his government to restrict the spread of the disease.
The new determination then turned into government policy as Johnson published an obesity strategy in July 2020.
Health care in the United Kingdom is funded through general taxation and so is free at the point of delivery to the patient. It means UK citizens don’t need to take out health insurance as in many other countries.
Johnson has now released details of how the scheme to tackle obeisty will work and where the money will be spent.
Over £70 million will be invested into weight management services – made available through the National Health Service (NHS) and local councils. This will enable to 700,000 adults to have access to support that can help them to lose weight, from access to digital apps, weight management groups or individual coaches, to specialist clinical support.
The remaining £30 million will fund initiatives to help people maintain a healthy weight, including access to the free NHS 12-week weight loss plan app and continuing the successful Better Health marketing campaign to motivate people to make healthier choices.
Part of the funding from the 30 million pot will also go towards upskilling healthcare professionals to support those in early years and childhood with intervention and enhanced training packages, helping up to 6,000 children and families to lead healthy lives.
One of the aims of the programme will be to develop innovative approaches with public and private partners that use incentives to help people make healthier choices.
This will draw on best practice from around the world, such as the national step challenge in Singapore, a nationwide physical activity programme aimed at encouraging Singaporeans to do more physical activity as part of their daily lives with financial incentives.
The scheme will prioritise helping those who need the most support to achieve a healthier lifestyle, reducing their need for professional health care and so reducing the burden on Britain’s hospitals and health care centres.
Obesity is one of the biggest health crises facing the UK and most of the western world including Europe and the United States. Almost two-thirds (63%) of adults in England are overweight or living with obesity – and 1 in 3 children leave primary school overweight or obese, with obesity-related illnesses costing the NHS £6 billion a year.
As Johnson found to his cost, living with excess weight puts people at greater risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19, with risk growing substantially as body mass index (BMI) increases.
Evidence suggests weight management services can help people to adopt healthier behaviours, lose weight and improve their general wellbeing.
The funding will support doctors and other health professionals to help make weight management an integral part of routine care. It will encourage clinicians to have conversations about weight with their patients and enable them to refer patients to new services.
Prime Minister Johnson said: “Losing weight is hard but making small changes can make a big difference. Being overweight increases the risk of becoming ill with COVID. If we all do our bit, we can reduce our own health risks – but also help take pressure off the NHS.
“This funding will give extra support to people across the country who want to lose weight too.”
Professor Jonathan Valabhji, National Clinical Director for Diabetes and Obesity, said: “Obesity is associated with higher risks of type 2 diabetes, heart attacks, strokes, many of the common cancers and is now linked with more severe COVID-19 outcomes, so there does indeed need to be wider action to support people to lose weight.”
Johnson’s brush with Covid may have also inspired his desire to ensure a speedy roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccines produced by companies like Pfizer and Astra Zeneca in partnership with Oxford University.
Britain placed orders for millions of vaccines with several companies long before the vaccines had been developed or their efficacy had been established. The gamble paid off with Britain managing one of the fastest vaccination programmes in the world, second only to Israel in speed and efficiency.
More information about the strategy can be found in the government news release.