Great Britain is officially on a diet. After three years of debates and discussions, the government has finally committed to a strategy to reduce our national waist spurred by the pandemic.
Personal fears for Boris Johnson’s health are partly behind the sudden push – in July, the prime minister blamed his severe Covid-19 illness, which placed him in intensive care for being “ too fat. ”
And so we can expect a slew of weight-loss interventions in the coming months, including a ban on junk food ads on TV and online before 9pm, and an end to one-and-one-free discounts. on sweet treats and calorie counts on menus in major restaurants.
In the coming months, we can expect a slew of weight-loss interventions, including a ban on junk food ads on TV and online before 9pm, and an end to buy-one-get-one-free discounts on sweet treats and calorie counts on menus in great restaurants
GP practices will also be financially rewarded for referring patients to weight loss clinics, and pot-bellied Brits will be encouraged to diet and exercise to lose 5 pounds for 12 weeks, using an app from Public Health England.
But within minutes of the announcement, there was a thunderous backlash. Leading obesity experts considered each policy to be ‘shortsighted’, ‘lazy’ and ‘based on no evidence’.
But as skeptical as I am about such a babysitting policy, I did not share the outrage on this occasion. After months of examining data on the victims of the coronavirus in great detail for months, the serious risks of obesity cannot be denied. Even if Covid-19 patients do not have diabetes, heart disease, or some other disease related to worse symptoms, this alone means very, very severe suffering.
Fears of Boris Johnson’s personal health are partly responsible for the sudden push – in July, the prime minister blamed his severe Covid-19 illness, which put him in intensive care for being ‘too fat’.
I’ve experienced it firsthand, interviewing patients for this newspaper as well as friends who lost parents before their time. Now that a third of the population is obese – roughly defined as a body mass index (BMI) score of 30 or more – it’s clear that something needs to be done.
And some of the criticism of the government’s diet plan was, frankly, misplaced. For example, that it was somehow nullified by Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Eat Out To Help Out program, where diners receive meal subsidies to boost the hospitality industry.
It is true that offering cheap McDonald’s and Greggs while promoting a nationwide anti-obesity regime is unfortunate timing. But obesity doesn’t simply come from eating too many burgers, and this suggests a myth that overweight people are just stupid, greedy, and / or poor and thus live on junk food.
Another criticism that is not entirely fair is that the policy is not supported by sufficient scientific evidence. It is true that there have been no compelling scientific studies to prove that things like candy and confectionery ads or cash-out promotions directly stimulate obesity, but that’s because it’s nearly impossible to account for the other factors driving weight gain. to influence.
But just because there isn’t much evidence to support a public health intervention doesn’t mean it’s not worth a try.
Chancellor of the Treasury Rishi Sunak, pictured, has a plan to offer subsidized meals to people who eat out Monday to Wednesday in the month of August.
Take the sugar tax, which led companies to substantially reduce the amount of sugar in their products, or the indoor smoking ban – both have proven to be hugely effective. Common sense tells us that banning junk food advertising before 9 p.m., and stopping WH Smith cashiers who flog you chocolate for half the price when you buy your newspaper can be a good place to start. But, along with the 12-week diet plan, will this solve the most complicated health problem of the modern age?
One of the most in-depth analyzes of the reasons behind rising obesity levels in Europe and the US identified more than 20 contributing factors – from lack of access to healthy food to no transport connections and disrupted sleep. According to a UK study of more than 20,000 families, children from poorer families are twice as likely to be obese than others. And about 70 percent of body weight is rooted in our genetics, so some people will find it much more difficult to shed excess weight. “Real change has to come from a social intervention that takes into account everything from education to poor housing to financial problems and mental illness,” says dietitian Alexia Dempsey.
Perhaps this is why similar drives in the past decade to help the nation slim down have had little or no effect.
First, there was the Healthy Weight, Healthy Lives strategy in 2008, pumping £ 372 million into NHS weight loss clinics and advertising campaigns urging Britons to avoid foods high in salt, sugar and fat. Then came the Change4Life campaign in 2009, which made free and subsidized access to weight management programs widely available. There is also a ban on junk food ads during children’s TV shows and the introduction of calorie labels on supermarket foods. Yet the obesity level slipped.
Studies show that 90 percent of weight loss attempts don’t work long-term, so what can be done?
Similar drives from the past decade to help the nation slim down have had little or no effect
“Dieting encourages you to think about food choices, which creates unhealthy patterns of restriction and binge eating,” says Dempsey. “Most obese people have an emotional relationship with food that must be handpicked – long-term psychological support is key.”
Telling people to lose weight – which, as part of the government’s plan, will lead to financial rewards for GPs – is hard to walk. Come down too hard and research shows that the majority of patients will actually eat more.
Instead, policies seem to work that disregard the individual and force food manufacturers to make their products healthier. The sugar tax cut consumption of sugary drinks by 40 percent.
There are suggestions for further developing policies to target a wider range of foods, such as foods high in fat and salt.
There is also a new policy that I do not support because of the obvious risks. Experts warn that putting calorie labels on restaurant menus will harm thousands of Britons with eating disorders.
I appreciate this more than most, after being in my early twenties from anorexia – a disease that makes 10,000 hospitalizations a year. At worst, I used the calorie count to help me consume just enough food to keep me out of the hospital.
Studies of the impact of calorie counts in restaurants in the US – where it has been legal since 2018 – have consistently shown that this type of thing is widespread.
Last week, I asked my Twitter and Instagram followers what they thought about calorie labeling. One of them, a 45-year-old with anorexia nervosa, said, “I automatically choose the option with the lowest calories, rather than what I really want.”
Others said they have remained in a state of ‘panic’ and ‘terror’ since the news about calorie labeling came out. Five years after my release from hospital, I cannot say with certainty that I would not be tempted to go on the disability side.
Last week, I asked my Twitter and Instagram followers what they thought about calorie labeling. One, a 45-year-old with anorexia nervosa, said, ‘I automatically choose the option with the lowest calorie count, rather than what I really want’
“The only thing that is certain about calorie labeling is that it will threaten the lives of people with eating disorders,” said Andrew Radford, CEO of Beat, the eating disorders charity.
In June, the charity – along with other medical agencies – warned Public Health England and No10 of these known risks, but the advice fell on deaf ears. Radford adds: “The government is willing to cause collateral damage to the lives of people with eating disorders in their fight against obesity.”
Aside from the fact that the number of calories can be overestimated or underestimated by up to a quarter, the evidence that they work is mixed.
The most robust analysis, used to support government policies, concluded that calorie labels can reduce calorie intake by as much as eight percent. But the authors of the study, published in the Cochrane Library, admit that the quality of this evidence is “low.”
I am cautiously optimistic that we are moving in the right direction. As for my concerns about the vulnerable minority – let’s hope I’m wrong.