Ob*sity report lays out effects of shelving anti-ob*sity pledges
This article is written by Louise Bennion ANutr. Louise is a Registered Associate Nutritionist currently working in the NHS with a background in obesity and weight management. To follow Louise head over to her Instagram page @Loutritionist
Ob*sity is a distressing and overwhelming public health problem harming millions of people in the UK that will never be resolved by offering tips on what to eat and what to avoid. Two in three adults are classified as overweight or ob*se and the problem costs £100bn a year. It’s a harsh reality that in recent years unhealthy diets amongst children have become somewhat normal. Millions of households are experiencing food insecurity and children are being continually bombarded with unhealthy advertising. The government vowed to introduce a range of measures to tackle ob*sity in England. These measures include curbing televised junk food advertising before 9pm, restrict online junk food ads and limit volume offers like buy-one-get-one-free (BOGOF) promotions. But, to the dismay of doctors, public health professionals and health campaigners, these plans have been put on hold until October 2025.
As a Nutritionist working in weight management, I am becoming increasingly concerned about the lack of action taken by the UK government to address childhood ob*sity. This delay in changing policy will almost certainly have a detrimental impact upon children’s health in the long-term. In England, two in five children are leaving primary school overweight and are subsequently at higher risk of chronic illnesses, mental health problems and reduced lifespan. Children living with ob*sity are at greater risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, and other long-term conditions including even cancer that can last into adulthood. The 2021 Health Survey for England estimates that 25.9% of adults in England are ob*se and a further 37.9% are overweight. Henry Dimbleby, the Government’s former food tsar has called for ministers to roll out smoking-style restrictions on junk food and to avoid putting millions of overweight people onto weight-loss drugs. It’s important to consider the longevity of any policy or public health intervention rather than trying to throw a quick fix at the problem.
After conducting this most recent research from City, University of London in which more than 100 interviews with adults across the socioeconomic spectrum, Dr Paul Coleman reported that it was clear that most people were aware of what constitutes a healthy diet. Yet, this knowledge isn’t reflected in food choices and health outcomes across the nation. For many families on insecure and unpredictable incomes, processed and less healthy ready meals are often the most affordable and appropriate options. This is a result of rising food and energy costs, time pressures, low quality kitchen spaces and a fear of spending a limited budget on more expensive fresh produce, especially if this fresh food isn’t all consumed and goes to waste. Ob*sity is a complex issue, and the evidence shows that a multi-faceted approach is required to educate the public to make more balanced, healthier diet and lifestyle choices. In turn, this can prevent and alleviate ob*sity as well as associated health problems without relying on food taxes or restrictions on unhealthy food and drink advertising alone.
What are the possible solutions?
A major shift across the food system is required. Firstly, healthier foods must be made more affordable to ensure nutrition security for all. This can be done via the extension of current campaigns like Healthy Start and Fruit and Veg Prescription, a pilot launched by the Alexandra Rose Charity to help tackle health inequality and food poverty. All school children should be provided with healthy food too. In addition to this, the food industry needs to take responsibility in producing healthier foods and the limiting the promotion of unhealthy foods including perceived value for money deals on ultra-processed foods (UPFs) and high fat, salt, and sugar (HFSS) items needs to be restricted.
We need to make healthier foods more appealing and emphasise that a healthy diet on a budget really is possible. To support healthier home cooking and reduce the reliance on ready-made, ultra-processed foods, educational resources are essential. Food and nutrition education needs to be accessible to those who don’t understand the foundations of a balanced diet and lack the confidence or tools to cook nutritious meals from scratch. This needs to be available in schools by increasing the number of timetabled sessions for Food Technology lessons to cover theory and practical learning as well as School Food matters’ work and Nutritank’s Nutrition4Youngsters initiative. School Food Matters provides fully funded food education programmes to schools to teach children about nutrition and increase their access to sustainable food during their time at school. Nutrition4Youngsters (N4Y) teaches primary school children knowledge of nutrition, food labelling and the gut microbiome. These are in-person two-hour teaching sessions delivered by Nutritank medical students as trained N4Y volunteers. We need to see an increase in similar sessions for adults and families to help introduce healthier habits and improved health outcomes. This is about empowering everyone to make healthier and cost-effective choices, not forcing healthy choices by creating a nanny state.
What are your thoughts?