Boris Johnson to launch anti-obesity drive after coronavirus scare

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The Prime Minister reportedly admitted he weighed 17½st when he was taken to hospital with coronavirus last month. At 5ft 9in tall, this would mean his Body Mass Index (BMI) was 36, which is in the obese range. Statistics show that being overweight increases the risk of hospitalisation from Covid-19. Since his illness, Mr Johnson is believed to have lost a stone.

Under his plan, the Government will invest in “preventative and personalised solutions” to help people lose weight and live more active lives.

Mr Johnson’s spokesman said: “It is critical to understand how different factors such as ethnicity, deprivation, age, gender and obesity could be disproportionately impacting how people are affected by coronavirus.

“Public Health England launched a review into the factors affecting health outcomes from Covid-19, to include ethnicity, gender and obesity. This will be published by the end of May.

“As we outlined in our Recovery Strategy, this Government will invest in preventative and personalised solutions to ill-health, helping individuals to live healthier and more active lives.”

The Prime Minister revealed his plan when he was grilled by the 1922 Committee of Tory backbench MPs yesterday. One MP who took part in the virtual meeting said: “His time in hospital has obviously had a big impact on him and it is influencing his thinking on future policy, which is a good thing, particularly when it concerns the health of the nation.”

Experts welcomed the news too and said there should be a focus on helping people shed pounds as well as preventing them from becoming overweight in the first place. They also said the food industry could do more to prevent people turning to unhealthy options while in lockdown. Malcolm Clark, policy manager at Cancer Research UK, said: “There are things the industry can do right now to support a healthy weight.

“These include ensuring they do not have high fat or sugar promotions and that when they are doing their marketing and advertising, they are not pushing the most sugary options.” The Prime Minister’s drive comes after he pledged to review the so-called sin taxes, including the levy on sugary drinks, during the Tory leadership race last year.

Caroline Cerny, at Obesity Health Alliance, said the apparent reversal in policy was “really welcome news”, adding: “We know that having obesity can increase the risk of developing other types of disease, and now it is looking likely it is also linked to complications from Covid-19.

“So it’s really welcome news that the Government is planning to focus attention on this important health issue.”

Susan Jebb, professor of diet and population health at the University of Oxford, said the food industry could do more to ensure people don’t overeat during lockdown. There are a number of preventative measures the Government could introduce, she added, including putting calorie labels on all foods and menus and restricting promotions and advertising on unhealthy foods.

She said: “There is discussion about restricting TV advertising at a time when everyone is stuck at home and are more exposed to food advertising.

“We know that being exposed to advertising prompts people to eat. So taking action to control advertising, restrict promotions, enforce calorie labelling on menus…these are going to require legislative action. We know what to do, it is just a question of doing it.”

But she added it was not realistic to say shedding the pounds would reduce the numbers of people getting coronavirus.

“Encouraging people who are overweight to recognise losing weight will benefit their health is important for a whole raft of reasons, Covid just adds to the list. “It is not realistic to say losing weight is going to reduce Covid, it is about protecting our health long term.”

She also said that doctors should be encouraged to raise weight as a health issue, like smoking, and to offer to refer people to specialist weight management services.

She added: “We really don’t support or encourage people to try to lose weight.

“We know that there is a range of interventions which are effective, but we are not really using them that much in the NHS.

“In general doctors don’t raise the issue of obesity – they are more likely to treat the diseases which are a consequence of it.

“We need to get doctors to be much more proactively referring people to local weight management programmes.”

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