Coronavirus prompts PM to crack down on obesity


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The prime minister is expected to announce new measures to tackle obesity next week, and they are expected to include a ban on junk food TV ads before 9 p.m.

It comes amid mounting evidence that overweight or obese people are at greater risk for coronavirus.

The measures have yet to be finalized, but are also expected to include a ban on online advertisements for unhealthy food and limits on in-store promotions.

A food industry leader said it was a “slap in the face.”

The move marks a change in stance for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has previously criticized levies on foods high in salt, fat and sugar – and called his stance on tackling obesity ‘libertarian’ .

Mr Johnson’s experience in intensive care while being treated for Covid-19 is believed to have contributed to his change of position.

Speaking on a visit to a GP practice in east London, he said that while he wasn’t normally the ‘nanny or boss’ type, the country needed to lose weight to protect yourself from a second peak.

He said: “Obesity is one of the real co-morbid factors. Losing weight, frankly, is one of the ways to lower your own risk of coronavirus. “

Obesity strategies have had a turbulent recent history.

David Cameron, backed by NHS leaders, was set to unveil sweeping restrictions on food marketing and advertising in England in the summer of 2016. Then he abruptly stepped down and his successor Theresa May watered down or dropped out most ideas.

Two years later, she had changed her mind and her Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced plans to ban fast food advertising before the 9:00 p.m. television turn and stop supermarkets from promoting products. unhealthy food in stores.

Those plans were subject to consultation but were left in limbo when Boris Johnson arrived in Downing Street a year ago.

His comments on the “continuing creep of the state of nannies” and the need for a review of the “sin taxes” were interpreted to mean that he was against further intervention in people’s food choices.

But it has changed, and most of the 2018 plan now looks set to be implemented.

It could have been enacted now but, whatever the timing, the measures – including sweeping changes in the way food is advertised, are an important step in tackling one of the world’s biggest health challenges. From our era.

Ministers are still finalizing the details of some anti-obesity measures, for example whether to require more visible labeling of foods and drinks containing high levels of sugar or salt.

Some restaurants may be required to put calorie labels on menus.

Mr Johnson is believed to be likely to push forward advertising restrictions and is considering banning in-store promotions of unhealthy food.

BBC political correspondent Leila Nathoo said: “Although this goes against his political instincts, Boris Johnson now wants to give the strategy a new boost.

“He was previously skeptical about taxes on unhealthy food and drink, and it is not yet known to what extent his proposals will go beyond what has been suggested before.”

“Although obesity is linked to a whole host of health issues, the Prime Minister has clearly been urged to act by the connection with the coronavirus. ”

Tim Rycroft, chief operating officer of the Food and Drink Federation, said the move was a “slap in the face” to the food industry, which he said had worked “heroically” to feed the country during the pandemic.

“He’s going to ban food promotions 10 days before the Chancellor launches the biggest food promotion the country has ever seen,” he told Today. “This is going to entail huge costs for the advertising industry and broadcasters at a time when the economy is in a rather precarious situation. ”

A letter from the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising sent to the Prime Minister said that a government impact assessment last year showed that a 9:00 p.m. watershed on foods and beverages high in fat, sugar and salt would only remove about 1.7 calories per day from a child’s diet – the equivalent of half a Smartie.

In the letter, Managing Director Paul Bainsfair wrote: “The introduction of such a drastic measure at this time could have profound repercussions on agencies and the advertising industry, in general, in terms of jobs and of creative production, for very little end result. “

Game changer

Health and Social Affairs Minister Helen Whately told BBC Breakfast an announcement was due “shortly”. She said she recognized obesity to be “possibly the biggest health challenge” the country is facing – “especially with Covid”.

Tam Fry, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, told BBC Radio 4’s Today program that he believes the Prime Minister’s experience at St Thomas’s Hospital was a game-changer and it was understood that the goal was to get people to lose weight. the next peak “.

He said: “There hasn’t been a ban like this, but you have to try – and if after a while it turns out that it’s not that effective, then maybe it is. will stop.

“It is indeed a risk but the problem is that the consequences of obesity are so great that risks and bold measures must be put in place. ”

He called for the sugar tax on soft drinks to be extended to other products.

The NHS says most adults with a body mass index (BMI) of 25 to 29.9 are overweight, while those with a BMI of 30 to 39.9 are classified as obese. Another measure of excess fat is the waistline – men with a waistline of 94cm or more and women with a waistline of 80cm or more are more likely to develop waist-related problems. ‘obesity.

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