The Government’s ‘Better Health’ strategy aims to tackle increasing obesity levels in the UK which have been highlighted as a major risk in the fight against COVID-19. Politics Home has gathered the views and opinions of those at the heart of policy-making.
Together for Health have summarised the key takeaways and salient points:
1. The obesity strategy must focus on wellbeing and not shame people into losing weight
In this article, Caroline Nokes, Conservative MP for Romsey and Southampton North and chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, shares her concerns for those vulnerable to weight targets, putting an emphasis on finding new ways to engage with individual mental wellbeing, as well as a focus on BMI rather than the number on the scales.
She also emphasises that we are not facing a new challenge. It is well known that heart disease, cancer, diabetes and liver disease are all related to weight and the quantity and type of food we eat. But to date nothing has worked, indeed it is possible to argue that each successive initiative has seen the direction of traffic going the opposite way.
How do we learn from these past mistakes?
Caroline proposes that, rather than shaming people into losing weight, there is a need to inspire, encourage, help and remember that not every weight problem is about being too heavy.
2. The Government’s obesity strategy is the beginning of the road, not the end
“Seeking to change individual lifestyles alone won’t solve the obesity crisis, we need to address it’s root causes through a ‘whole system’ approach”. This is the opening statement from Mary Glindon, the Labour MP for North Tyneside and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Obesity, in this article.
Mary goes on to say that there is no single solution to solving the complex problem of obesity. This is a condition which has a basis in biology, the lived environment, behaviour, psychology, socioeconomics as well as the calorific content of our food and drink.
If this is the beginning, what are the required next steps?
A focus across government departments and on the ‘whole system’. This is not just a buzzword. Seeking to change individual lifestyles alone won’t solve the challenge of obesity. For example, if we are going to ask GPs to prescribe cycling, we need to make roads safer and less congested. If we are going to ask people to eat more healthily, we need to ensure healthy food is affordable and accessible.
3. Providing effective, empathetic support will be essential in the fight to tackle obesity
Regulating junk food advertising or promotion and implementing calorie labelling are long-term measures. They do not and cannot address the complex way that we think about food, our weight and the process of losing weight which is needed to help people lose weight sustainably in the months ahead.
In this article, Jenny Caven, Director of External Affairs at Slimming World, explains that those helping people to urgently make changes to their whole lifestyles must consider and address the psychological as well as physiological impact of weight on health.
How do we treat people who struggle with their weight with compassion and care?
Working together across the healthcare system and referring to experts with proven abilities in supporting people with weight loss, must be part of the solution. Nearly 20 years ago Slimming World pioneered a referral and partnership programme with the health service. Independent research showed it was a cost-effective and successful system with Slimming World observing a greater weight loss among its community over 12 months than for any other weight-loss organisation.
Caution against the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach
In this article, BANT (British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine) both support and challenge the Government’s strategy.
Support: Changes to advertising and supermarket offers needed to set the background for producing a long-term cultural shift to promote healthy behaviour adaptations in an environment that offers so many opportunities for unhealthy indulgence.
Challenges: The use of calorie counting is well established to be problematic with regards supporting people looking to lower their risk of obesity. Calorie counting takes little or no account of the nutritional value of different foods, and their relation to health, and is therefore unhelpful for those at risk of eating disorders. Not for the first time BANT is asking “why promote a campaign that leads the population to rely on calorie defined processed foods, rather than simple, wholesome ingredients?”
Together for Health concludes that any action on obesity is broadly welcomed as a positive step, however it is fair to say that the Better Health strategy is viewed largely as a starting point from where there is still much work to do.
Whilst the strategy sets out goals that are broadly supported, there is a need to embrace this a multi-faceted challenge across government, and all aspects of citizen life, to create the right environment for healthy behaviours.
There is also a recognition that the tone needs to be right. The goals and targets should be well-considered as well as ensure that the right support is in place for people to change habits and make positive life changes whilst recognising how difficult it is to do so.
Please click here to read the full Department of Health and Social Care policy on Tackling obesity: empowering adults and children to live healthier lives
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