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Boris Johnson says he’s ditched ‘libertarian’ position on obesity after coronavirus battle

Boris Johnson has previously been a fierce critic of measures like the sugar tax. (PA)

3 min read

Boris Johnson has admitted that he has ditched his “libertarian” position on whether or not the state should help people tackle obesity after his own brush with coronavirus.

The Prime Minister said obesity was “hugely costly” for the NHS, and vowed work to “make the difference” after losing weight while in intensive care.

Mr Johnson has previously been a fierce critic of measures like the sugar levy, and vowed to pare back a plan to extend it to sugary milk drinks in one of his first acts as prime minister. 

But Mr Johnson told Times Radio on Monday that he had had a change of heart since being admitted to intensive care with Covid-19. 

Obesity is a major risk factor for the disease, and Mr Johnson is reported to have shed two stone himself since going into hospital.

Mr Johnson said: “I did lose some weight, it’s perfectly true as you do in ICU. Many people will testify to that.”
Asked whether this had now prompted a shift in his thinking on obesity, Mr Johnson said: “It's absolutely true. I'm afraid you will find... in the great anthology of embarrassing former articles that people always drag up, some of them from this paper I expect, but you will find, I have taken a sort of very libertarian stance on obesity.

“But actually, when you look at the numbers, when you look at the pressure on the NHS [and] compare, I'm afraid, this wonderful country of ours to other European countries we are significantly fatter than most others — apart from the Maltese for some reason — and it is an issue.”

While Mr Johnson would not be drawn on whether he now backed the sugar tax introduced by his predecessors, he said helping the nation slim down was now “something we all need” to focus on.

“I don't think I don't think politicians can treat it as irrelevant,” he said.

“It does matter. It's hugely costly for the NHS, it's a serious national issue. Now how you talk about it how you address it how you practically make the difference, that's what we're looking at.”

The Prime Minister’s comments come after the Sunday Times reported that Mr Johnson will outline plans next month to increase the country’s fitness levels.

The Department of Health is said to have presented proposals to Number 10 including boost access to family exercise schemes, healthy eating programmes, and bariatric surgery, which can include the fitting of gastric bans.

The Government is also reported to be considering a crackdown on “buy one, get one free” offers and unlimited refills on unhealthy foods and drinks, while restaurants and takeaways could be made to reveal calorie counts for foods on the menu.

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