UK: Beat Coronavirus by Reducing Obesity

UK: Beat Coronavirus by Reducing Obesity

Boris Johnson's New UK Strategy to Beat Coronavirus is to Reduce Obesity and get Britons to lose weight. It may sound like government overreach to some, but studies have found that obese coronavirus patients are over 5 times as likely to be admitted to intensive care, and 7-10 times as likely to require invasive mechanical ventilation as their non-obese counterparts. And the UK, just like the U.S., has an obesity problem: nearly two thirds of adults are overweight or obese, and about one third of children leave elementary school overweight or obese. Similar numbers prevail in the U.S..

Boris Johnson himself is overweight, even after losing 14 lbs. in the hospital during his coronavirus treatment, who is quoted in The Daily Express as saying “The facts are simple: extra weight…makes it harder to treat heart disease, cancer and – as we have found – Coronavirus…[the impact of my weigh on my coronavirus treatment] was a wake-up call for me and I want it to be a wake-up call for the whole country.”

While of course no one in the UK is being forced to diet or exercise, the government hopes to nudge its citizens in a healthier direction through its Better Health initiatives:

Ban on TV and Online Ads for Poor Food Choices

The ban will apply for foods high in fat, sugar and salt being advertised during the day, before 9pm. One analysis by Cancer Research UK during September 2019 found that nearly half of all food advertisements shown on ITV1, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Sky1 were for items high in fat, sugar and salt. This rose to almost 60% during the 6pm to 9pm time slot – the time period where children are most likely to view advertising.

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End Buy One Get One Free Promotions for High Fat/Sugar/Salt Foods

The new measures will prohibit ‘buy one get one free’ on unhealthy food high in salt, sugar and fat, and also prohibit these items being given prominent positioning in stores. A 2018 study found that 43% of all food and drinks given prominent positioning in stores were sugary, and just 1% were healthy.

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Calorie Labelling

While calorie labelling is already standard for packaged foods in grocery stores, this measure would require large restaurants and cafes with more than 250 employees to add calorie labels to the food they sell.

By the end of 2020, there will also be an advisory group launched to plan calorie labelling for alcohol. For British adults who drink alcohol, alcohol consumption constitutes ~10% of their caloric intake, yet most underestimate the number calories in the alcohol they drink.

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New NHS Campaign to Encourage Healthy Eating and Exercise

The UK's National Health Service is one of the country's most popular institutions, so it only makes sense that it's a core component of the new campaign to reduce obesity. Expanded NHS services will include more self-care apps and online tools for those with obesity-related conditions, as well as incentives to doctors to support their patients in losing weight and increasing their activity levels.

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Have you or someone you know sought to lose weight or become more active, driven by the link between obesity and poorer outcomes if infected by COVID-19?

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