July 29, 2020

The Government’s “Better Health Strategy” is a good start, but mustn’t forget about those affected most severely by obesity

The Government have recently announced a raft of initiatives to combat obesity in the UK, designed to get the nation fit and healthy to help protect against COVID-19 and ultimately take the pressure off the NHS.

Evidence has shown that being severely overweight puts people at greater risk from hospitalisation, ICU admission, and potentially death from COVID-19; the risk increasing substantially as body mass index (BMI) increases.

What measures are the Government taking to tackle obesity?

The initiatives include a ban on unhealthy “buy one get one free” (BOGOF) deals, restrictions on advertising junk food before 9pm, and greater incentives to GP’s to tackle excess weight including the use of apps and the prescribing of exercise.

Missing from these initiatives, though, is any increased access to bariatric surgery, which last week was mooted in the press as a possible tool in the fight to get Britain healthy.

The number of bariatric surgeries carried out in the UK each year is already much lower than in any other European country. This new initiative continues to focus on prevention and is eminently suitable for most adults in the UK with less severe obesity. However it fails to take into account the needs of those living with severe and complex obesity who would be the most vulnerable if faced with a second wave of COVID-19.

What needs to be done?

Obesity UK were broadly welcoming of the government’s plan but highlighted that weight loss was not simply a matter of “eat less, move more”. They called for the government and media to improve the portrayal of obesity saying:

“stigmatising headlines, injury, fat jokes and in many instances promotion of weight stigma are seen all too often and this has been evident throughout the COVID-19 pandemic”.

They also called for the government to reconsider the strategy and ensure they include measures for people living with severe obesity, especially those with a BMI of 40 and above.

BOMSS (British Obesity and Metabolic Surgery Society) also echoed these views and said that whilst it was “two cheers” for Mr Johnson for putting together some good preventative strategies alongside some measures which might help some of those living with less severe degrees of obesity to maintain or even lose weight, they felt that a significant (and urgent under current circumstances) extension of bariatric surgery to treat complex obesity was needed.

BOMSS feel that if we delay it will be too late for many patients living with obesity who may contract COVID19 in the future, with increased subsequent costs to the NHS should they need hospitalisation and ICU care.

So overall it is a good start for the new obesity strategy, and any measures to address obesity in this country should be welcomed, however there is still some work to do to ensure it benefits the people who need it most.

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