27 Jul 2023 Blog: The National Obesity Strategy three years on – so much promise, so little action
Today marks three years since the Government launched the National Obesity Strategy, hailed at the time as a landmark strategy which promised to put healthier food in the spotlight, make it easier for people to make healthier decisions when it comes to food and drink choices and finally, provide more support locally to those living with obesity. This blog will aim to explore how the strategy has fared.
“Tackling obesity: empowering adults and children to live healthier lives” was published in 2020 during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Prime Minister at the time, Boris Johnson, launched it in a bid to “get the nation fit and healthy, protect themselves against Covid-19 and protect the NHS.”
There was much excitement when the strategy was launched, which featured a raft of measures designed to improve the food environment. The strategy also came as a pleasant surprise, given the Prime Minister at the time had previously been openly critical of population level interventions such as the Soft Drinks Industry Levy.
So, three years, one pandemic, a cost-of-living crisis and two new administrations later – how has the National Obesity Strategy fared?
National Obesity Strategy scorecard
Our final conclusions
Many public health campaigners welcomed the strategy with open arms when it was published 3 years ago, however reflecting back on the progress since then, it points to yet another disappointing picture and ultimately a missed opportunity following the pandemic to put the health of the nation first.
Whilst we have seen some progress in certain policy areas such as calorie labelling and placement promotions, we feel the potential of both policies are not being fully reached. This is largely down to the significant exemptions in the policies in terms of store or business size and lack of thought that has gone into the monitoring and evaluation of the implementation of the policies; and ultimately the funding behind it. Particularly in relation to the placement promotions legislation, anecdotally we have heard that trading standards officers have received little training or instructions on carrying out inspections.
Three years is a significant time period, especially in political terms and during this time we have had two further prime ministers take office. Each with their own priorities and positions on issues such as obesity. The current government appears not to have prioritised the national obesity strategy, announcing further delays, whilst funding pilots for weight loss drugs such as Wegovy as opposed to prevention. Whilst treatment is a critical part of the picture, we urge the government to not lose sight of the role prevention can play in promoting a healthier workforce, economy and reducing pressures on the NHS.
The subsequent delays to some of the most important policies has left the strategy in limbo and thrown doubt over how serious the current government are in prioritising the nation’s health.