The Government’s obesity strategy is the beginning of the road, not the end
If we are going to ask GPs to prescribe cycling, we need to make roads safer and less congested, writes Mary Glindon. | PA Images
Seeking to change individual lifestyles alone won’t solve the obesity crisis, we need to address its root causes through a 'whole system' approach.
At last, we have a national obesity strategy for adults and children.
This is solid progress for so many organisations and individuals who have worked tirelessly to improve public health and reduce obesity over many years and particularly in recent weeks.
Covid-19 has highlighted the need to reduce obesity levels in the short-term, but this obesity strategy should also aim to help people to live happier and healthier lives both now and beyond the pandemic.
The APPG on Obesity, which I am proud to chair, has been working on this for years.
The group recommended a national obesity strategy for adults and children in May 2018 and we are delighted at Monday’s announcement. I thank the previous co-chairs and current officers for their commitment in proactively championing this cause in Parliament and more widely. This is an engaged group that has managed, alongside others, to secure policy wins at the highest level of Government.
Before Monday’s announcement, we developed a top 10 wish list of policies which we asked No10 to include in their plan.
We asked experts what they thought were the critical issues as we recognised there is no one solution to solving the complex problem of obesity. This is a condition which has a basis in biology, the lived environment, behaviours, psychology, socioeconomics, and the calorific content of our food and drink.
Our policy requests attempted to cover these and it is great to see several within the Government’s strategy.
These include bringing in a 9pm watershed on junk food advertising and a commitment on calorie labelling. I hope the legislation behind these measures will provide accountability for their delivery, and that the Government will report back on their implementation.
We asked for a public health campaign to encourage healthy choices, and incentives for GPs to refer patients to weight management services, which the Government also says it will expand.
We hoped that the principle of supporting people to manage their weight would come through, and it largely did.
However, the strategy does contain a few gaps. For example, there is little in the strategy about the wider determinants of health.
If we are going to ask people to eat more healthily, we need to ensure healthy food is affordable and accessible.
We are missing the focus across government departments and on the ‘whole system’. This is not just a buzzword; seeking to change individual lifestyles alone won’t solve the challenge of obesity. We need to address its root causes.
A ‘whole system’ approach looks at the solutions to reduce obesity across society.
For example, if we are going to ask GPs to prescribe cycling, we need to make roads safer and less congested. If we are going to ask people to eat more healthily, we need to ensure healthy food is affordable and accessible.
I also hope people will have access to the range of available treatment options, from diet and exercise advice right through to specialist multidisciplinary support and bariatric surgery. We can’t rely on just the Diabetes Prevention Programme, as successful as it may be.
These services are not universally available and the Government’s commitment to expand weight management services provides an opportunity to correct this.
Simply eating less and moving more is not easy for people living with obesity. There is a balance to strike between encouraging healthier lifestyles and avoiding weight stigma.
We should recognise that the people who need the most support will also see the most benefit.
The APPG wants to work constructively with ministers. We can take a moment to celebrate, but we then have much more to do.
Mary Glindon is the Labour MP for North Tyneside and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Obesity.