UK’s plans to tackle obesity in light of increased COVID risk

Reading Time: 3 minutes

In recent weeks we have seen the link between obesity and an increased risk of death from Coronavirus.

In addition, the Prime Minister and Health Secretary have both made comments recently to the effect that they want to implement plans to treat the nation’s obesity problem.

As we outlined in our recovery strategy, this government will invest in preventive and personalised solutions to ill health, helping people to live healthier and more active lives.

Official spokesman for Boris Johnson

We’ve heard all of this before, and with no successes to date, so it’ll be interesting to see what is new about the next plan.

To give some context, the UK has a major problem with obesity. Obesity is defined as having a body mass index above 30. Your BMI is calculated using your height and weight. You can use this link to calculate your own BMI.

The UK obesity rates stands at 28%. That means that more than 1 in 4 people is classified as obese. We know that being obese increases your risk of cancer, type 2 diabetes and a host of other diseases. We now know that it increases the risk of serious ill health and death from Covid 19 too.

To set this in context, here are the obesity rates from some other major nations around the world*:

  • United States of America – 36.2%
  • UK – 27.8%
  • Ireland – 25.3%
  • Spain – 23.8%
  • Germany – 22.3%
  • France – 21.6%
  • Italy – 19.9%
  • China – 6.2%
  • South Korea – 4.7%

You can see this is a problem that is affecting the whole of the western world, and in almost all countries it is a growing problem.

To save lives and protect the NHS it is essential we have a healthier population with a lower prevalence of obesity. Bariatric surgery, recognised by NICE as one of the most cost-effective healthcare interventions, is often viewed as a ‘quick-fix’ solution, but we need to look beyond this stereotype because a quick-fix is precisely what is needed if we are to avoid needless suffering

BOMMS council letter to the Prime Minister, 19 May 2020

In response to Prime Minister’s comments about this, the British Obesity and Metabolic Surgery Society wrote to him yesterday explaining what an important role weight loss surgery has to play. A copy of the letter was carried in the The Times yesterday. Surgery is targeted at the morbidly obese (BMI over 40) and there are several million people in this category. almost all of these people would benefit from weight loss surgery and are eligible under NICE guidelines. However, only 6,000 procedures are done int he NHS each year. In other European counties they are doing about 10 times as many cases.

The reason for this is a lack of resources, and conflicting priorities such as cancer care and A&E.

Of course, surgery is not the entire answer, its a very effective way to treat people who are in poor health today because of their weight, but we also ned to do more for those people who have a lower BMI to help them reduce weight before surgery becomes necessary. This is especially important for children and young people.

So, let’s wait and see what these new plans entail. Experience would show that its much easier to make statements about reducing obesity than it is to achieve it. Hopefully this is an area where Covid encourages a change of policy towards obesity treatment. Our first goal should be to get the number of surgical procedures done every year on an upward trend. If in 5 years time we are doing 60,000 cases per year we will have caught up with the numbers France and Germany are doing. It’ll be a challenge but the social and financial benefits to our nation would be huge.

* Source The World Factbook. Jan 2020

Picture of Rishi Singhal

Rishi Singhal

Rishi is an expert bariatric surgeon based in the West Midlands and also Medical Director at Healthier Weight

The Healthier Weight App

Conquer health goals through live support.


Get a FREE consultation by calling
0800 3134618 
Get a quote 
We use cookies on our website to give you the most relevant experience by remembering your preferences and repeat visits. Your personal data will be used for the personalization of ads and cookies may be used for personalized and non-personalized advertising. By clicking “Accept All”, you consent to the use of ALL the cookies. However, you may visit “Cookie Settings” to provide a controlled consent.  Read our cookies policy here