The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (“the College”) has welcomed the UK Government’s new obesity strategy, but stressed the importance of exercise, early years education, healthy choices and the sugar tax.

The new strategy comes in reaction to studies, which have indicated a causal relationship between obesity and an increased risk from COVID-19.

The obesity strategy includes the following measures:

  • Ban on TV and online adverts for food high in fat, sugar and salt before 9pm
  • End of deals like ‘buy one get one free’ on unhealthy food high in salt, sugar and fat
  • Calories to be displayed on menus to help people make healthier choices when eating out – while alcoholic drinks could soon have to list hidden ‘liquid calories’
  • New campaign to help people lose weight, get active and eat better after COVID-19 ‘wake-up call’

The College had previously called for several of these measures, and we therefore welcome the plans to introduce them. However, we believe that exercise, early years education, and healthy choices must also be included in all strategies aimed at tackling obesity.

Professor Angela Thomas OBE, interim president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, said:

As healthcare workers, we often treat adults who are suffering from obesity related complications. The sometimes devastating impact of COVID-19 on obese adults is a wake up call that obesity is associated with serious health risks.

There are of course measures which people can take to reduce weight related problems, and the College would always recommend eating healthily, avoiding junk food, tobacco and excessive alcohol consumption, and exercising regularly.

However, many of the health problems associated with obesity can be avoided altogether. Government must work closely with schools, food agencies and supermarkets to ensure that exercise, nutritional information, and healthy choices are available and accessible from early age to adulthood.

The College also believes that retaining the “sugar tax”, and building on its early successes in reducing the amount of sugar in soft drinks, is essential. The College would caution against scrapping the “sugar tax” as this could reverse progress made.

Finally, the College would urge government in all parts of the UK to examine the impact of COVID-19 on the poorest communities. Research by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that there is a correlation between inequality and COVID-19 deaths – and indeed, it is the case that adults are more likely to obese in the most deprived parts of the UK.