Being overweight or obese puts people at greater risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19, the government says.
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Boris Johnson is to tell millions of overweight Britons to get on a bike to shed the pounds and survive COVID-19.
Launching a massive anti-obesity campaign, the prime minister will order GPs to prescribe cycling to lose weight as he attempts to put the nation on a diet.
Some patients will be able to gain access to a bike through their doctor’s surgery and the government will provide more cycle lanes, traffic curbs and parking for bicycles.
The “on yer bike” crusade from the cycling fanatic Mr Johnson is part of a wider obesity strategy being unveiled by the PM to get the country more active, healthier and eating better.
The government says being overweight makes people who catch coronavirus at higher risk of severe and potentially life-threatening illness and requiring intensive care.
“COVID-19 has given us all a wake-up call of the immediate and long-term risks of being overweight, and the prime minister is clear we must use this moment to get healthier, more active and eat better,” said a government spokesperson.
“We will be urging the public to use this moment to take stock of how they live their lives, and to take simple steps to lose weight, live healthier lives, and reduce pressure on the NHS.”
A new “Better Health” campaign, offering advice to 35 million people on how to lose weight and keep it off, will be supported by a 12-week plan, which will be seen as an attempt to put the country on a diet.
Other measures in the government’s anti-obesity crackdown are expected to include:
- A ban on junk food advertising on TV until after the 9pm watershedOutlawing online advertising of unhealthy foodsA ban on buy-one-get-one-free promotions on foods such as chocolate and crispsCalories published on alcohol bottles and cans and restaurant and takeaway menus
Unveiling the strategy, Mr Johnson is expected to set out plans to “drive the biggest ever step change in cycling and walking, with a series of commitments to harness the potential for cycling to tackle some of our most pressing health and environmental challenges”.
The government claims taking up cycling is among the most effective health interventions a person can make and studies have shown that cycling to work is linked to a 46% lower risk of heart disease compared to commuting by car or public transport.
In areas with poor health and low physical activity rates, the government plans a pilot scheme where GPs will be encouraged to prescribe cycling where appropriate for patients.
Patients will be able to access bikes through participating surgeries, and there will be segregated cycle lanes, low traffic neighbourhoods and secure cycle parking in areas with high levels of obesity to make sure patients can have confidence on the road.
The PM’s zeal in helping overweight Britons shed the pounds stems from his near-death coronavirus ordeal, which prompted him to warn colleagues: “Don’t be a fatty in your 50s.”
On Friday he claimed to have lost “a stone and a bit” since his illness, after stepping up running, swimming and tennis, as well as cutting down on alcohol and eating more fish, chicken and salads.
During the Tory leadership election last year Mr Johnson lamented that he had put on weight as a result of “late-night binges of chorizo and cheese”.
The government estimates that two-thirds (63%) of UK adults are above a healthy weight, with 36% overweight and 28% obese. One in three children aged 10 to 11 are overweight or obese, and children living with obesity are five times more likely to become obese adults.
It is estimated that overweight and obesity related conditions are costing the NHS over £6bn each year. There were nearly 900,000 obesity related hospital admissions in 2018/19, with obesity a risk factor for chronic diseases including type 2 diabetes, some cancers, liver and respiratory disease.
NHS weight loss services are to be expanded so more people can get the support they need and the government says it will also look at ways to make it easier to be referred to specialist support.
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This includes learning the lessons from tackling smoking, where GPs played a key role in raising the topic and referring patients to stop-smoking services.
The NHS has announced it will accelerate the expansion of its diabetes prevention programme to support people most at risk, providing access to high-impact weight loss services for those that need it the most.