THIS week Boris Johnson announced an “anti-obesity” strategy. One of his driving forces for this was his realisation that he himself was at an increased risk of having Covid due to being overweight. Following his own near-death experience after contracting Covid, the Prime Minister has unveiled a raft of new measures aiming to tackle the obesity crisis in our country!

How sad is it that it has taken a global pandemic, where thousands of lives have been lost, for our government to recognise the need to address the root causes of an epidemic we have been dealing with for a very long time.

Between 70-80% of chronic health problems that come into general practice are down to our lifestyle habits. This is well known. Conditions such as type-2 diabetes, high-blood pressure, heart disease and strokes have been on the incline and unfortunately being overweight can seriously increase your risk of developing these conditions. It is now also a well-known risk factor for Covid.

Various weight-tackling strategies have been proposed. These are aimed at both adults and children and include banning TV and online adverts before 9pm and stopping deals of “buy one, get one free” for foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar. Another measure is for doctors to prescribe cycling to patients. Furthermore, the government will mandate that calories are displayed on restaurant and takeaway menus as well as on alcohol bottles to allow people to be fully informed and empowered to make healthier choices.

This is great in theory – however, obesity is a very complex disease and this plan puts more onus and pressure on the public to make conscious lifestyle decisions. From my experience as a GP, it’s not always as straightforward as eat less, move more, especially as there are often genetic as well as other environmental and social factors that come into play. The bulk of lifestyle-related diseases tend to be found in areas of deprivation, where there is poverty coupled with limited education. I am really not certain how realistic or practical some of these measures are in implementing change in these population groups.

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I also worry that now obesity has risen higher up on the government agenda, there is the potential for those suffering with obesity to feel even more stigmatised thus potentially making the situation even worse.

As a GP I regularly try my best to empower my patients to make small changes to their lifestyles which would help them achieve better health outcomes in the long term – however, it’s not always easy to do this in our 10-minute consultations. The government needs to think outside the box a little as to where this grassroots help will come from to help tackle the crisis we face.

As someone who has taken her patients out on lunchtime Lidl walks, I felt this was very effective in helping teach my patients how to shop smarter and make healthier choices in the supermarket. This isn’t time best spent for GPs, but who will do it and who will fund such a service? Also, the measures proposed need to be inclusive of the whole population. Many people from ethnic backgrounds won’t cycle, will have richly diverse diets and with English perhaps a second language, the measures proposed may not apply or be understood by them.

What we need is less of the “anti-obesity” terminology and more empowered language coming from the powers above. People with obesity need to be supported and managed with compassion through education and easily accessible resources which includes access to nutritionists and dieticians in the community – and perhaps even in the supermarkets.

We need more funding, research and treatments which work, such as bariatric surgery.

Whilst I am pleased that strategies are being explored and implemented, I truly feel that the focus should be specifically targeted to areas with the highest needs and should be kept realistic and practical for all.