Obesity and coronavirus: are we doing enough to keep healthy?

Judith Wills / 27 July 2020

With obesity a known risk factor of coronavirus, diet expert Judith Wills looks at what the Government is - and isn't - doing to encourage healthy eating with the new 'Better Health' campaign.



Life is full of contradictions, isn’t it – especially around matters of human size and weight control, and more than ever now, as we’re a nation in slow recovery from a viral pandemic and waiting with trepidation for the next wave – apparently due when as winter comes along.

While it seems that obesity is a risk factor for the coronavirus, and while our own dear Prime Minister has suffered a near-fatal bout of the bug and blamed his weight for making it worse, sadly most of us seem confused about what exactly we should be doing, and Boris and his fluctuating ideas on what the Government is going to do to help are doing little but adding to that.

For example, as part of the Government's 'Better Health' campaign we have a ban on supermarket promotions (e.g. buy one get one free) of items deemed unhealthy – but, lo and behold!, he’s also paying towards a scheme for restaurants to offer half-price meals through August to get people back eating out. A fine idea? Well … um … a bit sad that the places that have signed up for this scheme are, for example, Burger King, Nandos and Pizza Hut, those well-known bastions of healthy eating.

Boris has also revived the oft-mooted plan to put compulsory calories and nutrition information on restaurant and takeaway menus (for restaurants/chains employing more than 250 people) – a plan I’ve always been against (why go out for a meal, a supposed treat and pleasure, if you’re going to sit there with a long face worrying your Chicken Kiev at 750 calories will take you past your day’s calorie limit?) It will cause much trouble, time and money for our catering industry to put this measure in place just at a time when they are struggling to survive - people just aren’t going out to dine like they used to BC (Before Covid, of course).

It seems even the Body Positivity brigade are unsure what to say in the midst of all this angst about weight and covid. Having become an ever-louder voice against diets and slimness and for the right to be fat and happy, they have the weight - excuse pun - of Public Health England, the Department of Health and indeed Boris himself to contend with, urging us to lose the pounds or stones and get fitter to protect ourselves against the worst the virus can do, and thus have gone remarkably quiet of late.

But did you notice – soon after he came out of hospital Boris was photographed in his tracksuit, doing his bit of jogging and looking active – but then it all faded away (the activity, not the fat) and though he may have lost a few pounds, he is still, according to my eagle eyes, nowhere near a healthy weight range especially as his fat is mostly sitting in the worst place of all – round his middle. Not the best role model then.

And then there is the new plan to get more of us clinically obese people (that’s about a third of the UK population) signing up for the surgeon’s knife to help us eat less – for example, gastric bypass (to help you fee full more quickly) or gastrectomy (removing some of your stomach so you just can’t eat so much – nice). It’s claimed this will ease pressure on the NHS in the longterm but the idea of using surgery to lose weight seems desperate, does it not? Tell me if you think I’m wrong – believe me, I’m as confused about all this as you are.

And I’ve a feeling these diet dilemmas are not going to be resolved any time soon.

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