We asked a nutritionist what they think about the Government's new obesity measures

Jane McGuire
Photo credit: Mohammad Zubair Sadiek / EyeEm - Getty Images

From Runner's World

In a bid to tackle the obesity crisis in the UK, the Government has published a new plan. With two-thirds of adults in the UK living with obesity, the new measures include restrictions on where unhealthy foods can be promoted in stores and new rules about displaying calories on menus.

There will be a ban on junk food adverts being shown before 9pm for the whole of the UK. The strategy, unveiled by the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, comes amid growing evidence of a link between obesity and Covid-19.

The key elements of the campaign include:

  • An immediate ban on advertising junk food on television before 9pm and a further consultation over whether online junk food should be banned altogether.
  • A nationwide campaign to help people eat better and lose weight following the ‘wake up call’ of Coronavirus.
  • A review of the food traffic light label.
  • A consultation on adding calorie information to alcoholic drinks.
  • Labelling of calories on the menus of restaurants, cafes and takeaway chains with more than 250 employees.
  • Greater incentives for GP’s to tackle obesity.

We asked RW's nutritionist, Kim Pearson, for her thoughts

'The government's plans to tackle obesity are certainly welcomed by those of us in the health community who witness the impacts of poor metabolic health on a daily basis.

'From a dietary perspective, the guidelines place significant focus on calorie labelling. "Calories in vs calories out" is a reductionist approach to a complex issue and fails to address many of the factors that lead to individuals gaining weight and being unable to lose it. It does not emphasise the importance of where we get those calories from. Education should be focussing on encouraging us to choose whole, minimally processed foods and what a 'balanced diet' actually looks like. I teach my clients to structure meals around a quality source of protein, a moderate portion of healthy fats and plenty of vegetables or salad. Eating in this way nourishes our body, fills us up and keeps us satisfied. On the other hand, refined, ultra processed and high sugar foods are nutrient devoid, promote fat storage and leave us unsatisfied and craving more. The calorie count may be the same but the impact of these different foods on the body will be hugely different.

'I am a big advocate for exercise from both a mental and physical health perspective. However, the evidence that exercise contributes significantly to fat loss isn't as conclusive as one might imagine. We should certainly be encouraging it, but as the saying goes, you can't out-run a bad diet. We have to bear in mind that those who have a lot of weight to lose can find exercise very uncomfortable. Even if exercise isn't physically uncomfortable, for many it can be an overwhelming prospect to tackle both a total diet overhaul and having to start an intensive exercise regime all at once. If I am working with clients who feel like this I will often encourage them to start slowly, say with three 20 minute walks a week. The impact of exercise on our weight goes beyond how many calories we burn as a result of that activity. For example, exercising outdoors increases exposure to natural light which is important for our mental health. As issues like low mood, stress and anxiety can result in eating for comfort, improving mental health and wellbeing through exercise and natural light exposure can be helpful methods for reducing non-hunger eating.

'In my opinion there needs to be a two pronged approach to tackling the UK's obesity crisis. We need to be educating the nation on healthy eating from a young age, while simultaneously improving our food environment. There is a lot we can learn from the anti smoking campaign which has been so successful, starting with reducing the affordability and accessibility of ultra processed food, meanwhile making healthy foods more affordable and accessible to all. At the same time, we need to be offering access to support for individuals who wish to lose weight and improve their health - both in the form of dietary guidance and support with implementing advice on a practical level.'

Eating disorder charity Beat has spoken out in response to the labelling of calories in restaurants, with Beat’s CEO Andrew Radford saying, ‘It is extremely disappointing that the Government have chosen to put at risk the health of people affected by eating disorders.’

Sporting organisations, like Swim England, have also questioned why there has not been more of a focus on exercise and funding for leisure facilities, which may be at risk following the pandemic.



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