Public health directors urge action on obesity

Eight directors of public health from the north-west of England have written to Boris Johnson calling for any anti-coronavirus obesity plan.

The Prime Minister is expected to announce a new strategy to get the nation lighter and fitter, triggered by his own encounter with coronavirus. However, public health officials want any anti-coronavirus obesity plan to more importantly address the underlying causes of unhealthy weight, from poverty to the easy availability of junk food.

The letter says that the government should ‘create an environment that support individuals to make changes in their behaviour, making it easy for people to make the healthy choice’.

It reads: “Without this, a national campaign encouraging weight loss would be entirely ineffective and a waste of taxpayers’ money. There is simply no point in addressing the symptoms and ignoring the causes. Our weight status is not solely dependent on our personal choices. There are many other significant factors that determine one’s weight – including where we live, how much money we earn, who we socialise with, what marketing we are exposed to, our family history and many more factors.”

Matthew Ashton, lead director of public health for Food Active, and one of the signatories, said: “We know this isn’t just physical activity. It’s energy in, energy out. You have to do a hell of a lot of energy-out stuff to compensate for the large amounts of energy we are all as country taking in because of the way our food systems are set up – the processed foods, the sugar intake we all have. The sweets and pointless food we all enjoy having but that really doesn’t do us any good means you have to do a hell of a lot of physical activity to get rid of it.

“Clearly physical activity has to be a key part of the strategy, but it is the one we always point at. Commercial sponsorship of sports – the likes of Mars, Coca-Cola, Lucozade – those kind of things which are high-energy, high-input products – kind of get away with it by then supporting physical activity opportunities in the community. But actually it would be so much better if we didn’t have the stuff going in in the first place.”