New obesity plans – raising the bar?

The UK Government has today announced a new obesity strategy, urging the country to “lose weight to beat COVID-19 and protect the NHS”. The Food Ethics Council welcomes the renewed focus on addressing obesity and diet-related ill health. This is long overdue. We want this to be part of a sustained effort, not a temporary surge in government interest triggered by the pandemic.

We strongly support those measures announced in the new strategy that have the potential to transform our obesogenic food environment. In particular, we support the banning of advertising of junk food on TV and online before the 9pm watershed. We need to fundamentally change food environments – so that everyone is empowered to eat well and healthily – as infants, through childhood and in our adult lives.

Other measures announced – such as providing more support from the NHS to help people lose weight and improving labelling – are broadly welcome. However, several of the policies still very much put the emphasis on individuals to ‘make better choices’, rather than fundamentally changing the options available to us. This has to be a collective effort, supporting each other.

We do however want to see a much stronger emphasis on prevention rather than cure – empowering people to value healthy food, eat well and live active lifestyles from a young age. We await the detail, but there does seem to be a disappointing lack of emphasis on infant and child feeding in the new strategy. As so many have said before, the first 1,000 days are so important.

Executive Director, Dan Crossley, responding to the new obesity strategy, said:

“We very much welcome the renewed focus on addressing obesity and diet-related ill-health. It’s sad that it has seemingly taken the COVID-19 pandemic for the UK Government to wake up to the very real and growing problem of obesity. Nonetheless, the package of measures being proposed – if introduced in full – could help improve the collective health and wellbeing of the nation.

We still need much bolder interventions on prevention. Plans to address obesity must also be connected with measures to tackle the other emergencies we face, including the biodiversity and climate crises. That’s why, the introduction of a bold National Food Strategy in England is so important – to make sure we join the dots. We need food systems that are healthy and resilient for people, animals and the planet.”