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New Healthy Weight Strategy aims to reverse rising levels of obesity

Today sees the launch of the Obesity Health Alliance’s “Turning the Tide: A 10-year Healthy Weight Strategy” which calls on the UK Government to be the first in the world to reverse the rise in obesity levels. Our Director of Policy, Campaigns, and Improvement, Bridget Turner, sets out why the strategy has come at such a crucial time and why Diabetes UK will be working wholeheartedly to support its recommendations.

There are numerous factors that contribute to obesity but on a fundamental level we are all hard wired to seek out calorific food, high in fat and sugar, and our food industry has adapted to provide and promote what sells best. Today we live in a society where high calorie, nutrient poor food is easily accessible, widely abundant and on average significantly cheaper than healthier options. This is a large part of why we’ve seen global obesity levels triple since 1975.

In the past, methods to address obesity often placed the emphasis on individual behaviour rather than addressing the system wide challenges. Rather than tackling the issue head on, this approach has helped fuel stigma and discrimination against people living with overweight and obesity. Stigma which in turn can negatively impact people’s mental health and willingness to seek out care and support. Today, the Government increasingly recognises that to reverse the rise in obesity, the whole food system needs to change and will soon be setting out a Food White Paper laying out new policy interventions. The Healthy Weight Strategy launched today by the Obesity Health Alliance with the support of Diabetes UK makes 30 recommendations which are needed to turn the tide on the UK’s rising obesity rates.

The Obesity Health Alliance is a coalition of over 40 organisations who share the common goal of reducing obesity by influencing government policy. As part of our diabetes prevention work, Diabetes UK is a key member of the Obesity Health Alliance. While there are a range of risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes, including age, family history and ethnicity, we know that obesity accounts for us much as 85% of the overall risk. Currently in England, 64% of adults are classed as living with obesity or overweight compared to 53% in 1993. Reducing obesity rates is crucial in seeing less people develop type 2 diabetes.

The Healthy Weight Strategy comes at a very important moment. The Government will shortly respond to the independent National Food Strategy led by Henry Dimbleby which was published this July. The Healthy Weight Strategy endorses many of the recommendations found in this strategy while making further specific recommendations in areas which were not covered.

Within the Healthy Weight Strategy, the Obesity Health Alliance are calling on the Government to ensure the full implementation of the policies it has already pledged to enact including a 9pm watershed on junk food adverts on TV and removing paid-for adverts online. 

The strategy also calls for the Government to take steps to restrict widespread and highly influential marketing tactics used to sell unhealthy products, including misleading information on packaging, sports endorsements and cartoon characters.

Further recommendations cover the need to make weight management services available across the country, for planning processes to promote healthy lives and for robust food standards policies. The strategy also proposes the Government explores options to introduce a reformulation levy on the food industry (such as the example recommended in the National Food Strategy) to incentivise the production of healthier food and drink (a policy Diabetes UK strongly support but will be working to ensure does not unfairly impact those who use sugary products to mitigate the hypo side effects of treatment).  

The Healthy Weight Strategy sets an ambition to see real change in the next 10 years and government, the health service and industry all have an important and significant part to play in ensuring this happens.

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