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Cycling on prescription key part of obesity strategy

UK Government campaign reacts after weight revealed to be a key factor in risks posed by COVID-19

Mark Moran
27 July 2020
Cycling will soon be available on prescription (Sustrans)
Cycling will soon be available on prescription (Sustrans)

 

A UK Government strategy to tackle obesity will includes a 12-week plan for people to lose weight and see GPs prescribing cycling.

The strategy comes after Public Health England research found that being overweight or obese puts people at greater risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19.

The Prime Minister has admitted that his own weight was a factor in how badly he suffered from coronavirus.

The Government estimates that about two-thirds of adults in the UK are above a healthy weight. It also estimates that overweight and obesity related conditions are costing the NHS more than £6bn each year.

There were nearly 900,000 obesity related hospital admissions in 2018-19, with obesity a risk factor for chronic diseases including Type 2 diabetes, some cancers, liver and respiratory disease.

Public Health England (PHE)’s Better Health campaign to support people to live healthier lives and reduce their risk of serious illness, including COVID-19.
People will be urged to work towards a healthier weight with the support of free tools and apps to help people eat better, lose weight and get active.

PHE said there is growing evidence suggests that being obese or excessively overweight puts people at greater risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19.

The campaign will be targeted at groups most affected by obesity and is supported by a coalition of partners, including those providing weight management services.

The campaign was unveiled as part of the government’s new Obesity Strategy.

The campaign encourages adults to introduce changes that will help them work towards a healthier weight, with a suite of free tools and apps supporting people to eat better, drink less alcohol and get active. There will be new app for the free 12-week NHS Weight Loss Plan, which is designed to help people make healthier food choices and learn skills to prevent weight gain.

The strategy will include:

  • Ban on TV and online adverts for food high in fat, sugar and salt before 9pm
  • End of deals like ‘buy one get one free’ on unhealthy food high in salt, sugar and fat
  • Calories to be displayed on menus to help people make healthier choices when eating out – while alcoholic drinks could soon have to list hidden ‘liquid calories’
  • New campaign to help people lose weight, get active and eat better after COVID-19 ‘wake-up call’.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has become an advocate of reducing obesity since it was identified as a fact in why he was badly affected by the virus. “Losing weight is hard but with some small changes we can all feel fitter and healthier,” said Johnson. “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 current evidence does not suggest that having excess weight increases people’s chances of contracting COVID-19. However, data shows that obese people are significantly more likely to become seriously ill and be admitted to intensive care with COVID-19 compared to those with a healthy BMI.

PHE has released a new film explaining how weight gain happens, the impact that it has on our bodies and how it increases the risk of serious diseases. The film helps people know when to act and encourages them to visit the Better Health website to find out about the available support.

Professor Kevin Fenton, London Regional Director at Public Health England:, said “Gaining weight often happens gradually over time and can be just the odd unhealthy habit mounting up, but extra weight puts pressure on our bodies and reduces our strength to fight off serious diseases, including COVID-19.

“COVID-19 has given us a wake-up call to get our health back on track. We know how hard it can be to lose weight and keep it off – our Better Health campaign aims to make it easier for everyone to introduce changes that will help them maintain a healthy weight. It’s never too late, or too early, to make changes that will have a lasting impact on your health.”

Many people have used lockdown as an opportunity to change habits and adopt healthier behaviours, yet research has shown over half the population has found it harder to stay healthy during this time. While staying active is important to help people lose weight and keep it off, improving diet is most critical as most people are consuming more calories than they need.

Alongside mass nationwide promotion, the campaign will specifically target areas and groups that are most affected by obesity and excess weight. Evidence shows that Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities are disproportionately affected by obesity as well as COVID-19.

The Better Health campaign is one of a raft of measures that have been revealed as part of the government’s new Obesity Strategy.

A range of campaign partners including WW, weight watchers reimagined, Slimming World and GetSlim are offering exclusive discounts to coincide with the launch.

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “Everyone knows how hard losing weight can be so we are taking bold action to help everyone who needs it. When you’re shopping for your family or out with friends, it’s only fair that you are given the right information about the food you’re eating to help people to make good decisions. To help support people we need to reduce unhelpful influences like promotions and adverts that affect what you buy and what you eat. Taken together, supported by an inspiring campaign and new smart tools, will get the country eating healthily and losing the pounds.

“We know obesity increases the risk of serious illness and death from coronavirus - so it’s vital we take action on obesity to protect the NHS and improve our nation’s health.”

The Better Health campaign film is available online.

Excess weight can increase risk of serious illness and death from COVID-19

Being obese or excessively overweight increases the risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19, a new Public Health England (PHE) report confirms.

The report summarises findings from evidence published during the pandemic on the effects of excess weight and obesity on COVID-19. UK and international evidence suggests that being severely overweight puts people at greater risk of hospitalisation, Intensive Care Unit (ICU) admission and death from COVID-19, with risk growing substantially as body mass index (BMI) increases.

The current evidence does not suggest that having excess weight increases people’s chances of contracting COVID-19. However, the data does show that obese people are significantly more likely to become seriously ill and be admitted to intensive care with COVID-19 compared to those with a healthy BMI.

One study found that for people with a BMI of 35 to 40, risk of death from COVID-19 increases by 40% and with a BMI over 40 by 90%, compared to those not living with obesity. Other data found that in intensive care units, 7.9% of critically ill patients with COVID-19 had a BMI over 40 compared with 2.9% of the general population.

Almost two-thirds (63%) of adults in England are overweight or obese, with people aged 55 to 74, those living in deprived areas and certain black, Asian and minority ethnic groups more severely affected.

Excess fat can affect the respiratory system and is likely to affect inflammatory and immune function. This can impact people’s response to infection and increase vulnerability to severe symptoms of COVID-19. Obese people may be less likely to access healthcare and support, and it is also thought that COVID-19 affects other diseases associated with obesity.

The report highlights that supporting people to achieve and maintain a healthy weight may reduce the severe effects of COVID-19 on the population, especially among vulnerable groups that are most affected by obesity.

Dr Alison Tedstone, Chief Nutritionist at Public Health England, says: “The current evidence is clear that being overweight or obese puts you at greater risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19, as well as from many other life-threatening diseases. It can be hard to lose weight and even harder to sustain it, which is why people cannot easily do it on their own. Losing weight can bring huge benefits for health – and may also help protect against the health risks of COVID-19. The case for action on obesity has never been stronger.”

The report notes some limitations on evidence to date and highlights the need for more evidence, including research to establish the effect that weight management might have for groups at greater risk of the severe effects of COVID-19.

The report also summarises evidence regarding the nation’s eating and exercise habits during the COVID-19 pandemic. While some data suggests that more people have exercised during lockdown, evidence indicates that the nation’s exercise levels have not increased overall since before the pandemic. Meanwhile, snack food and alcohol sales in high street shops have increased.

 
 
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