An emergency obesity drive is set to be launched in a bid to reduce type 2 diabetes and improve the health of the nation should a second wave of COVID-19 strike.
According to an exclusive report published by the Guardian newspaper, government officials have been meeting to agree on the best approach.
It has been reported that Prime Minister Boris Johnson blamed his weight for the fact he became so ill and required intensive care treatment when he came infected with coronavirus.
Research has indicated that health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity are associated with poor outcomes among those who contract COVID-19.
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The UK currently has the highest coronavirus death rate within Europe and it is thought the government wants to do all it can to avoid a potential second wave from further increasing the death toll.
Speaking to the national newspaper, an unnamed official said: “There’s two paces to this. The first needs to be nutrition-focused, getting people’s BMIs down over the next three or four months, using what works. And then we can start thinking in the longer term. But for now it’s about getting people as ready for the next wave as we can.”
Existing NHS resources and dietary plans are expected to be included in the programme.
Slimming organisations may also be drafted in to help, although the government official told the Guardian that although they tend to have good success rates, they are not very good at “engaging the people who need it most, and that’s ethnic minority communities and men”.
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This comes as England’s deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries has admitted she is “very, very concerned” about a second wave of COVID-19.
During a television appearance on ITV’s This Morning she said: “Obesity is actually problematic and that’s one of the things that we could do something about.”
She urged people to lose weight ahead of the winter, just in case the colder weather sparks a second wave.
She said: “Because the weather is slightly with us, it’s quite likely that the summer is sort of running a bit in our favour, that in the warmer weather, particularly when people are outdoors much more – which is much safer – we’re unlikely to see one.
“But I think myself and colleagues are very, very concerned about looking out for a potential second peak as we move into the autumn, and of course that’s the same time that we start having people presenting with other symptoms which could confuse people – so flu symptoms vary, obviously, and also when our hospitals get busier.”
Jenny Harries said there was “still quite a long haul” to go with coronavirus, and urged people to take action such as losing weight to help fend off the illness. In a television appearance she said that people should not become complacent and must maintain hand washing, social distancing and limited social interaction.
“What we do know is those who are successful in sustaining weight loss increase their physical activity in addition to consuming a balanced, healthful diet,” said Dr Robert Ross, from Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada, one of the world’s leading researchers on excess weight.
Ross and other academics have warned against an overfocus on BMI as a measure of health, noting that research showing other measures such as waist size can be a more useful gauge.
Ross said government health programmes should focus not just on weight but also on the health gains that come from active living and healthy diets, irrespective of BMI. “There’s very few things that you can do in life that are associated with more benefits across a wide range of outcomes than doing those two things. So even if the bathroom scale isn’t cooperating the way you would like, give yourself a hug.”