Boris Johnson: obesity drive will not be ‘bossy or nannying’ :

Boris Johnson has formally launched the government’s efforts to reduce obesity levels in the UK by saying it will be supportive rather than “excessively bossy or nannying”, amid some scepticism about how effective the plan will prove.

While new measures will include bans on junk food advertising, there is no proposal to extend the earlier tax on sugary drinks to other products, including foods.

Outlining the plans on Monday, the junior health minister Helen Whately accepted the sugar tax had been successful in prompting manufacturer to reformulate drinks to include less sugar, but said there were no plans to widen it.

The government has said it will ban junk food adverts before 9pm and launch a short consultation on whether that should be extended to a blanket ban on adverts for sweets and fast food online.

Other measures include a ban on the sale of chocolates, crisps and sweets at checkouts and displaying calories on menus in restaurants and pubs, including for alcoholic drinks, which are estimated to account for nearly 10% of the calorie intake of those who drink.

While health campaigners have welcomed the proposals, some have questioned whether they put too much emphasis on individual responsibility for obesity, rather than addressing health inequalities.

Downing Street has put Johnson at the centre of efforts to promote the strategy, which the prime minister decided to push ahead with after concluding his own weight had played a significant role in his serious bout of coronavirus.

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No 10 launched the plan on Monday with a social media video of Johnson explaining how he had “wanted to lose weight for ages and ages”, and had been “way overweight” when he was in intensive care suffering from Covid-19.

Johnson said he now began his day by running with the Downing Street dog, Dilyn, saying: “The great thing about going for a run at the beginning of the day is nothing could be worse for the rest of the day.”

The government proposals were, he said, “just trying to help people a little bit to bring their weight down – not in an excessively bossy or nannying way, I hope”.

He added: “We want this one to be really sympathetic to people, to understand the difficulties that people face with their weight, the struggles that many, many people face to lose weight, and just to be helpful.”

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, the health secretary, Matt Hancock, stressed the link between the push to reduce obesity levels and reducing the strain on health services if there is a second wave of coronavirus this winter.

“If everyone who is overweight lost five pounds it could save the NHS over £100m over the next five years,” he wrote. “Taking serious action against obesity will be one of our biggest priorities over the months ahead.”

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Questioned about the plan on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Whately called obesity a “huge health challenge”, with two-thirds of adults overweight or obese.

Whately said it was a good moment to introduce such a programme: “Now is a moment in time when many people have changed their lifestyle habits over the coronavirus period, over the lockdown. It’s a moment of reset when people can think again.”

Asked about the sugary drinks tax, unveiled in 2016 by the then-chancellor, George Osborne, Whately said it had been a success: “We certainly learned from the effectiveness of that particular measures, and as you say, what we saw with the sugary drinks levy is the widespread reformulation of the products.”

But she declined to say why it was not being extended. Johnson is known to be an opponent of what he has in the past called “sin taxes”. Pressed on the issue, she said: “That’s not in the policies that we are setting out today.”

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