Article By: GILES SHELDRICK
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The National Obesity Forum says 10 steps will win a decades-long battle against the bulge and make the nation fitter and healthier. And the charity thinks the Prime Minister could make conquering the crisis his lasting legacy.
Writing an open letter to the PM in today’s Daily Express, chairman Tam Fry said: “Many of the obese who died [during the pandemic] are dead because governments over the last 30 years have failed to tackle obesity.
“Yours could be the one that succeeds.”
The NOF, which is made up of healthcare practitioners, created its plan for a healthier Britain using its knowledge and experience gained over 20 years working alongside politicians, policy makers, medical experts and food industry chiefs.
It comes after governments since the 1970s have tried – and failed – to get the population fit.
Recommendations include hiring an obesity tsar – a Cabinet post overseeing “draconian” sin taxes, like the sugary drinks levy.
It also wants bariatric surgery, such as gastric bands, made more widely available on the NHS so morbidly obese patients can get to a more manageable weight quickly. Other measures include a health food TV advertising drive and home economics being put back on the national curriculum so kids can learn how to cook nutritious food and eat more healthily.
Mr Fry said: “The Government’s latest plan, published in July, to halve childhood obesity by 2030 has already been judged by the National Audit Office as being un-able to make the change needed to achieve its aim in the timescale. We have reached the eleventh hour already.”
Almost one quarter of adults aged between 25 and 34 are obese, according to a 2019 NHS survey.
It is thought at least four million young Britons are obese while half of the 1.3 million staff working for the NHS are likely overweight.
Mr Johnson, 56, is believed to have weighed more than 17st when he was admitted to St Thomas’ Hospital in London on April 5 last year with Covid.
If correct, it meant the PM had a body mass index of around 36, making him obese.
He was struck down at roughly the same time as Health Secretary Matt Hancock. But while Mr Hancock, 42, brushed off the virus within days, Mr Johnson was taken to intensive care and given 24-hour supervision.
Britain was fighting a losing battle against chronic weight gain before the pandemic struck.
In the 15 months since experts fear the crisis has significantly worsened as families working from home gorge on convenience food, takeaways and alcohol.Latest NHS figures show obesity was a factor in more than one million hospital admissions in 2019-20 – a rise of 17 percent on the previous year. Campaigners say Covid has shown how obesity-driven illnesses are placing an unmanageable strain on the health service. Cardiologist and anti-sugar campaigner Dr Aseem Malhotra said: “Evidence reveals half of the British diet comes from ultra-processed junk. And poor diet globally now contributes to more disease and death than physical inactivity, smoking and alcohol combined.
“The greatest threat to the sustainability of the NHS is the obesity crisis, so if we want to fix healthcare then we need to fix the food we eat.”
The Government introduced the sugar tax in 2017 to combat childhood obesity, slapping extra charges on the manufacturers of fizzy drinks. Those containing more than 8g of sugar per 100ml pay a tax of 24p a litre. Those making products containing 5-8g of sugar per 100ml pay 18p a litre.
Pure fruit juices are exempt because they do not contain added sugar, while drinks with a high milk content also avoid charges due to their calcium content.
But campaigners say more levies are needed to root out excessive sugar, fat and salt from everyday foods. A report last year revealed one third of all hospital Covid deaths were diabetics with type-2 sufferers twice as likely to die.
The obesity-driven disease now costs the NHS £14billion a year or £1million every hour.
One in 10 people over 40 is battling the life-long condition, which can lead to blindness, amputations, heart disease and kidney failure, with a new diagnosis made every three minutes.
At least another million have the disease, but are yet to be diagnosed, while 12.5 million are at increased risk because of chronically unhealthy lifestyles. As a result, a new Office for Health Promotion – operational from the autumn and run by Professor Chris Whitty – will be responsible for tackling obesity and promoting physical activity.
Mr Johnson said: “Covid has demonstrated the importance of physical health in our ability to tackle such illnesses, and we must continue to help people to lead healthy lives so we can all better prevent and fight illnesses.”