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Obesity and Covid-19 There's a new plan!

Food for your mood

‘If every Brit lost 5lbs it could save NHS £100 million in ‘obesity wake-up call’

Whilst this quote from the Health Secretary Matt Hancock was misquoted, he actually said 'every overweight Brit!" it still has the potential to be a damaging headline.

Personal experience

The Government's new initiative to tackle obesity stems from the the personal experience of Prime Minister Boris Johnson who was seriously ill with Covid-19 resulting in a stay in intensive care in April.

Boris states;

When I went into ICU, when I was really ill, I was very overweight. I was too fat”

On recovering, Boris has embarked upon not only a personal mission but one for the nation.

If you can get your weight down a bit, you protect your health but you’ll also be protecting the NHS”.

Public Health England has launched a major new health campaign – ‘Better Health’. The campaign states it is using this ‘moment in time’, a unique moment where, globally we are united in recognising our own mortality and the impact of our lifestyle on current and future health outcomes. Never before has there been a time when almost everyone in the world has had to fundamentally change at the same time and focus on our health.

The campaign is focusing on the weight loss journey and the catchy advert – ‘Better Health, let’s do this’ starts with an alarm clock, a wake-up call. This is the video transcript: -

Wake up call.

Our health matters.

Truth is, extra weight piles on extra pressure, so it's harder to fight.

Fight cancer, fight heart disease, fight COVID-19.

It's time for a reset, restart, kickstart.

Let's do more, different, better.

Let’s wake up, get up and shake up.

Slip up, trip up, and go again.

For help and support to lose weight,

Go to

Better Health, let's do this.

We certainly need to look at obesity and health, here’s a few reasons why: -

Obesity is linked to more than 40 diseases including but not exclusively; Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, sleep apnea, osteoarthritis and many types of cancer

In relation to Covid-19 the link with obesity is not in the likelihood of you contracting the virus but in the severity of your symptoms if you do. Scientists and Doctors started to link obesity as the virus travelled around the world. Initially it was deemed to be a significant risk for the elderly and those with a compromised immune system or certain existing conditions. As the virus hit the USA however the trends started to show a different outcome. According to a report from the Lancet in April: -

As the pandemic hit the John Hopkins Hospital in late March younger patients were admitted to ICU, many of whom were obese. New editorials were noting obesity as a underappreciated risk factor for covid-19. This risk being particularly relevant in the US where the prevalence of obesity is around 40% compared to 6.2% in China, 20% in Italy and 24% in Spain.”

“Obesity can restrict ventilation by impeding diaphragm excursion. Obesity impairs immune response to viral infection. Obesity is pro-inflammatory, induces diabetes, oxidant stress and adversely affects cardiovascular function”.

“We conclude that in populations with a high prevalence of obesity, Covid-19 will affect younger populations more than previously reported”.

Source – The Lancet Obesity could shift severe Covid-19 disease to younger ages – April 30 2020

So, going back to the Better Health Campaign, is this the one? The right campaign at the right time?

We simply cannot save the NHS by apportioning blame to overweight individuals, there’s years of funding issues to delve into there but, whilst we all need to take ownership of our own health, we are not individually responsible for the financial difficulties faced by the NHS!

Obesity is an extremely complicated combination of physical and mental elements.Our relationship with food is one of the most emotive relationships we have, many people have a bad relationship with food and it doesn’t take much to tip them into feelings of guilt and shame. This doesn’t just apply to people with weight to lose and the misquoted headline could encourage those with eating disorders to follow the 'lose 5lb' message.

Our mental health first

There has been people enjoying lockdown with increased leisure time, daily walks, adapting cooking to eat healthier, being able to slow down and relax more. Then there has been people experiencing terrible lockdown conditions, financial strain, relationship issues, over-crowding in houses, limited access to food, children (and adults) unable to access green spaces (see my article on health and green spaces for information on the impact to our health of a lack of nature). And then of course, there’s the key-workers who have experienced potentially the worst six-months of their lives! How can we go from this to losing 5lbs (and why 5lbs!?) without first addressing our mental state?

What is the answer?

The Better Health campaign (to me) is not significantly different to the Change for Life campaign which hasn’t been particularly successful. If you consider this launched in 2009 and we are now having to address this ‘war on obesity’ 11 years later with a new generation of children adversely impacted by conditions such as Type 2 Diabetes.

Sadly, for me this campaign is a huge missed opportunity in doing something differently.

· Putting nutrition on the curriculum

· Pushing the health over weight message (this helps remove blame)

· Addressing the food industry

· Not focusing on calories

· Proper support for emotional eating not just slimming clubs

We need something, that much is true but I do foresee us launching another campaign in 5-10 years with the message that ‘this is the one’

I look forward to supporting you & hope to see you soon.

Louise Mercieca

Nutritional Therapist

Personal Trainer

Award-winning Author

Food writer

Presenter on Early Years TV Food

Keynote speaker

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