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Purition weighs in on Britain’s obesity strategy

Person squeezing fresh lemon juice over a Greek salad.

Boris Johnson has unveiled Britain’s Obesity Strategy, a set of new measures and guidelines to encourage the nation to get fit, healthy and lose excess weight in 12-weeks.

Obesity has long been one of the country’s most challenging health problems. An estimated 1 in every 4 adults and around 1 in every 5 children in the UK are now considered obese. Public Health England claims that the UK’s obesity crisis now costs the NHS a whopping £27 billion every year.

But it’s only the recent coronavirus epidemic that spurred the government to kickstart this new anti-obesity plan. It comes after the prime minister openly and willingly blamed his weight for the severity of his covid experience, where he ended up in intensive care.

And with figures suggesting that around two-thirds of those who have fallen seriously ill with coronavirus were overweight or obese, the government’s aim is to reduce obesity rates before the anticipated second wave.

But how does the government plan to approach its weight-loss scheme, and more importantly, will it work? Here’s what we know so far and what Purition thinks of the proposed measures…

What’s in the government’s obesity strategy?

The key measures outlined in the government’s obesity strategy include:

  • A ban on the advertisement of food high in fat, sugar or salt on television & online before 9pm
  • The end of ‘BOGOF’ deals on high fat, sugar or salt food products
  • Calorie labelling on products sold in large restaurants and cafes, as well as all alcoholic drinks
  • Expansion of weight management services offered by the NHS, including apps & online tools
  • Wider discounts and promotions on healthy foods like fruit and veg

When launching the campaign, Boris claimed:

“Losing weight is hard but with some small changes we can all feel fitter and healthier. If we all do our bit, we can reduce our health risks and protect ourselves against coronavirus – as well as taking pressure off the NHS.”

Britain’s obesity strategy: Purition’s stance

While the immediate implications of obesity have been put under the spotlight COVID-19, obesity has been one of the UK’s biggest health challenges for years.

Obesity is linked to an increased risk of type-2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and cancer. And with 67% of men and 60% of women now overweight or obese, we feel that a nationwide lifestyle shift is well overdue.

As a health food brand, we support the government’s initiative to tackle obesity and encourage fitter, healthier and more active lifestyles. But for us, the proposed strategy comes with a few key issues…

Calories in, calories out: A flawed concept

The government’s strategy places far too much focus on calorie counting, whilst failing to communicate the importance of calorie quality. The calories in, calories out concept can ‘lead to a misperception that total calorie intake is more important than the source of the calories and nutrient balance’.

Let’s look at a quick example. 500 calories could come from a couple of slices of pizza. This is a meal high in sugar and starch, which promotes fat storage. It’s also likely to cause a substantial increase in blood sugar, followed by a crash; leading to hunger and food cravings shortly after eating.

Alternatively, 500 calories could come from a balanced meal of protein, healthy fats and vegetables. Nutrient-dense, slow-digesting, significantly more filling and unlikely to cause a sugar spike. This would make it much easier for the individual to avoid over-eating and unhealthy snacking later on in the day.

Calorie quality matters. The government needs to educate the nation on how to build out — and cook — a plate of affordable, nutrient-dense food. They should promote balanced nutrition, rather than a vague ‘eat fewer calories’ message which is unlikely to lead to long-term healthy change.

Dieting doesn’t work: Ignoring the science

As part of the campaign, the government has partnered with WW, Slimming World and GetSlim to offer exclusive diet plan discounts.

These schemes may work for some, but the tedious food and calorie tracking involved is unsustainable for many. Some of these plans peddle overly-processed diet foods and promote unsustainably low daily calorie targets. Most fail to teach the core principles of healthy eating and nutrition.

Plus, following a rigid diet plan rarely works. A shocking 97% of dieters regain lost weight within three years. The majority of dieters reach their target weight, cancel their subscription, boomerang straight back to their old eating habits and regain the weight. This unhealthy ‘yo-yo dieting’ lifestyle is a constant push-pull, taking a toll on both physical and mental health.

But if diets don’t work, what does? Our ethos is all about eating more real, unprocessed whole foods and less processed foods. Eating more wholefoods naturally leads to better nutrition, higher satiety and therefore less temptation to overeat. Eating less processed foods also typically leads to significantly reduced sugar intake — one of the major contributing factors to weight gain, obesity and diabetes. It’s not a diet fad, but a lifestyle shift that leads to natural, healthy weight loss. No scrupulous calorie counting required.

Instead of promoting diet plans, the government would be better off taxing highly processed foods, whilst subsidising healthy foods like vegetables, nuts, seeds and healthy protein sources. The proposed ban on the advertising of junk food, alongside the increased discounts and promotion of healthier foods, is certainly a good starting point. After all, for the public to make good food choices, there need to be better choices on offer!

Eat out to help out: Mixed messages

The government kickstarted the ‘Eat Out To Help Out’ scheme just weeks after announcing the new obesity strategy. Participating restaurants, pubs and cafes will offer a 50% discount on Mondays to Wednesdays throughout August.

The problem? Most of the nation’s go-to fast food outlets — the likes of McDonald’s, Subway, Burger King and KFC — have signed up to the scheme. There’s no denying that the price of food is a major player in getting Britain healthy again, and it’s now possible to buy a KFC nine-piece bucket for a mere £3. Surely a month of easy access to cheap, high-sugar, high-calorie food will only cause obesity levels to rise further?

Instead, the eat out to help out scheme could have offered discounts and promotions exclusively on healthier, more nutritious meals and food products, in a bid to make healthy food accessible to all. Arguably, fast food giants shouldn’t have been included. Ultimately, the scheme could have worked in tandem with the obesity strategy, rather than contradicting it.

Time for action on obesity

Although we’re sceptical about some of the measures, it’s clear that immediate action is needed to tackle Britain’s obesity crisis. We hope that nutrition and cooking become a bigger part of the national curriculum, that free cooking and nutrition resources become more widely available and that healthy, nutritious food becomes accessible and affordable for all. Is the obesity strategy enough to trigger this major lifestyle shift? It’s questionable. But we’re happy that the government has at least made the first strides.

We know a thing or two about healthy, sustainable weight loss.

Purition has helped thousands of people lose weight and improve the quality of their diet. If you need help or advice to guide your weight-loss journey, get in touch.

Email us at hello@purition.co.uk or call us on 01743 444397 — we’d be happy to help.

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