Boris Johnson’s new obesity strategy will lead to a ban on TV adverts before 9pm for foods high in fat, sugar and salt, and will end confectionery displays at shop checkouts.
The ‘Better Health’ campaign is to encourage the UK public – the third fattest country in Europe, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) – to take action to improve their health.
In a video released to mark the launch of the government’s obesity strategy, Johnson said he had lost at least a stone in weight after recovering from coronavirus.
The prime minister said he was “way overweight” when he was admitted to intensive care in April as he battled COVID-19 and was put on oxygen.
Johnson has revealed already how his own brush with COVID-19 convinced him of the need to tackle Britain’s bulging collective waistline, saying the plan would help “reduce our health risks and protect ourselves against coronavirus”.
The strategy comes as evidence has begun to mount linking excess weight with a higher risk of severe illness from coronavirus.
A Public Health England (PHE) study published on Saturday discovered that being classed as medically obese increased the risk of death from coronavirus by 40%.
According to WHO data, Britain has the third-highest level of obesity among European nations.
The data is based on a person with a BMI (body mass index) over 30, which is classified as obese. The WHO assessed data on around 900 million people in 53 countries in the lead-up to 2016.
At 27.8%, the percentage of the UK population who are obese is lower only than Turkey, at 32.1%, and Malta, with 28.9%.
The average percentage of people who are obese in Europe is 23.3%.
Women tend to have a slightly higher obesity rate than men. In 2016, 28.6% of British women were classified as obese, compared to 26.9% of men.
See a full list below of top 10 overweight countries in Europe by percentage (both sexes)
United Kingdom 27.8%
Czech Republic 26%
Percentage of the female population
United Kingdom 28.6%
Russian Federation 26.9%
Percentage of the male population
United Kingdom 26.9%
Czech Republic 26.4%
Through the years: UK population’s obesity
So how did we get here?
Obesity is a growing risk to the health of people in developed nations, and has been described as an epidemic and global health concern.
The rapid rise in obesity could be blamed on our modern lifestyles, including our reliance on cars, TVs, computers, desk-bound jobs and high-calorie food, dense in sugar and saturated fat.
We are constantly being enticed by cheaper, faster foods.
Often the worst kinds of food are the fastest and cheapest to make, which goes hand in hand with most peoples’ modern, fast-paced lives.
People are often lured in by the convenience and marketing of junk food, without paying much attention to its calorie content.
Research also claims that lack of sleep caused by the stimulation of electronic devices could be fuelling obesity.
A good night’s sleep may prevent common metabolic disorders, including growing numbers of cases of type-2 diabetes.
It is also thought that Britain's drink problem is linked to the rise in obesity.
The UK's alcohol consumption levels are among the highest in Europe, with each person drinking an average of 10.7 litres of pure alcohol every year, compared to the European average of 8.6.
Alcohol is bad for the waistline because it is made from sugar or starch and is "empty calories" – meaning they have no nutritional value.
Public Health England says: “The increasingly obesogenic environment we live in makes it harder for individuals to avoid unhealthy lifestyle choices.
“From childhood, people are exposed to ultra-processed, energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods, which are cheap and readily available.
“Opportunities for physical activity, both in and out of school and the workplace, have been reduced and more time is spent on screen-based and sedentary leisure activities.
“As a result, high proportions of children and adults have increasingly been defaulting to unhealthy lifestyle choices including unhealthy diets, low levels of physical activity, and sedentary behaviour.”
The consequences of obesity include diabetes, heart disease and cancer, and people dying needlessly from avoidable diseases.