Westminster Column - Tackling obesity

7th August 2020

The government recently announced its latest package of measures to help tackle obesity. This is timely, since data from COVID19 shows that we are all in greater danger the more we are overweight.

While Coronavirus has shown a powerful immediate reason to help the nation slim down, the growing problem of obesity is not new. Almost two thirds of adults in England are overweight or living with obesity – and 1 in 3 children leave primary school overweight or obese.

As a former Health Minister, I am acutely aware of the cost and pressure which obesity increasingly places on the NHS, with obesity-related illnesses currently costing the NHS £6 billion a year. I am member of a parliamentary group on Obesity, and have long been interested in links between obesity and Type 2 diabetes.

Unfortunately, Shropshire faces some of the worst obesity rates in the country, with only 7 counties having a higher rate. 72.4% of adults in the county are overweight or obese.

Clearly, action is needed to empower people to lose weight. So the government’s Obesity Strategy aims to help people take control of their own future by losing weight, getting active and adopting a healthier lifestyle.

Measures in the plan include: banning unhealthy food adverts on TV and online before 9pm – and consulting on whether the online ban should apply at all times of day; ending ‘buy one get one free’ promotions of unhealthy foods; requiring large restaurants, cafes and takeaways to add calorie labels; consulting on plans to provide calorie labelling on alcohol; and expanding NHS weight management services.

This coincides with a new ‘Better Health’ campaign, calling on people to adopt a healthier lifestyle and lose weight. This Better Health campaign coincides with the government’s Budget £2bn package to promote cycling and walking. The Fix Your Bike voucher scheme offering individuals a voucher worth up to £50 towards the cost of repairing a bicycle has been hugely popular – with the first batch of 50,000 vouchers allocated very quickly. More will be released in future, so keep an eye on https://www.gov.uk/guidance/fix-your-bike-voucher-scheme-apply-for-a-voucher for when they are released.

In addition to a healthy diet, South Shropshire provides many opportunities to keep fit through walking, cycling or organised sport. By keeping at a healthy weight, we can all do our bit to improve our own and our nation’s health and thereby protect the NHS. I, for one, shall cycle to the House of Commons when I return.

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Image by Olga Lionart from Pixabay

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