Wednesday 29 July 2020 3:56 am

Letter: Is the government right to focus on obesity as its top public health issue?

Professor Rubino is a consultant bariatric and metabolic surgeon based at London Bridge Hospital

Re: Is the government right to focus on obesity as its top public health issue?

People with obesity are at a much greater risk of serious Covid-19-related complications and death. They are also more likely to require hospitalisation, ICU admission, and mechanical ventilation. 

Hence, addressing obesity makes sense not only as a way to prevent individual suffering, but also to reduce the pressure on our NHS.

The prevalence of obesity has been rising for the past three decades in the UK and worldwide. With the outbreak of Covid-19, we are now witnessing the clash of two pandemics. So the case for action on obesity — at a government level — has never been stronger.

Tackling obesity, however, is not an easy task. This is not only because of the size and complexity of the problem, but much more so because of widespread weight bias and misconceptions that portray obesity as a lifestyle condition that — no matter how severe —  individuals could easily “do and undo” at their will eating less and exercising more. 

Such a simplistic idea is at odds with everything modern science has shown us. The clinical evidence shows that interventions aimed at changing lifestyles, such reducing junk food ads and mandating calories counts, may help prevent future disease, but will not do not much for the millions of people who already live with obesity — especially the two million with clinically severe obesity in the UK.

So the question is not whether or not the government should intervene with urgent measures — the case for this is compelling — but whether such measures should finally include not only prevention but efforts to increase access to evidence-based treatments. 

Without the latter, those suffering from the most severe forms of obesity are at risk of serious harm and premature death, not just from Covid-19 but from other conditions in the future. 

Read more: Boris Johnson’s calorie labelling plan is well-intentioned but economically inept

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