The Government’s new strategy to tackle obesity in a bid to reduce Covid-19 deaths must be coupled with ‘adequate resources and funding’ for NHS services, health bodies have warned.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) today (27 July) announced it will be expanding NHS weight management services to help more people lose weight, and doctors will be offered incentives through QOF to provide weight loss support.
Public Health England (PHE) will also provide training for primary care staff to become ‘healthy weight coaches’ from next year, according to the DHSC.
The Government’s new measures on obesity follow a PHE evidence review, published last Friday (24 July), which found that overweight individuals are at an increased risk of serious Covid-19 complications and death.
The report said: ‘Supporting people who are overweight or living with obesity to lose weight, together with interventions to prevent or slow weight gain across the population will plausibly reduce future population risks of Covid-19.’
These wider health benefits will also ‘reduce pressures on the NHS’, it added.
‘Prescribe exercise and social activities’
Excess weight is an issue that affects almost two-thirds of adults in England, especially those aged between 55-74 years-old, those living in deprived areas and some BAME groups, according to PHE.
The package of measures announced by the Government includes accelerating the NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme, which provides personalised support and education on healthy living to individuals at risk of Type 2 diabetes.
‘GPs will also be encouraged to prescribe exercise and more social activities to help people keep fit,’ the DHSC said.
A ban on TV and online advertising for unhealthy food before 9pm, an end to promotional deals for food high in salt, sugar and fat, and calorie labelling for large restaurants and takeaway establishments will also be introduced.
‘Adequate resources and funding’ needed
Responding to the Government’s new strategy, Professor Dame Parveen Kumar, chair of the BMA’s Board of Science, called for the measures to be ‘actioned as quickly as possible’ and for ‘adequate resources and funding’ for the NHS to provide the support required, both now and after the pandemic.
‘We look forward to seeing the full details of the strategy and how this will be achieved,’ she added.
Addressing burden on NHS services
Dr Layla McCay, director at the NHS Confederation, said: ‘Helping people to improve their health and wellbeing are welcome and will ultimately reduce the burden on NHS services in any circumstances. That is especially true during the pandemic when the measures have the potential to help reduce the severity of the virus.
‘However, we recognise that benefits will mostly be long term and the Government will need to continue to support services and their staff during what is expected to be a challenging period. It will be particularly important to recognise any additional workload on primary care.’