Today I was pleased to take part in a short debate on the latest report from the All Party Parliamentary Group on Obesity: ‘The Future of Obesity Services’. The report was launched in November 2020 and makes several recommendations including that the Government:
- conduct research into the links between socioeconomic deprivation, ethnicity and obesity,
- provide clear national guidance on obesity treatment pathways and commissioning responsibilities and set a minimum standard for treatment at a local level,
- establish a ‘cross-departmental delivery panel’ to oversee the implementation of obesity policy and measure outcomes and
- continue to promote its Better Health campaign and build on this with a public information campaign about the range of support available.
Obesity is killing us right now and Covid-19 has provided greater urgency to this existing public health crisis. As devastating as this pandemic is one tiny sliver of good may yet be that it is waking us up to the importance of good health and pushing many more of us to find a way to exercise regularly; with so many other activities curtailed heading to your local park for a walk or jog has become increasingly common.
Covid-19 has been credited with causing an increase in the number of people reporting that they are motivated to make healthier lifestyle choices this year compared to last year. According to a survey from Public Health England published yesterday, seven in 10 adults are motivated to get healthier in 2021 due to Covid-19.
I welcome the All Party Parliamentary Group report and urge the Government to seize this precious moment and act on all proposed recommendations. I also asked the Minister if he would “agree that serious mental illness must be a significant factor in the commissioning of, and referrals within, obesity services if those currently experiencing obesity and mental illness are to get the service, support and help they need.”
The Minister responded by pointing out that the Government’s strategy, published last summer, ‘Tackling Obesity’ included “clear proposals for how those who have obesity as part of their mental illness challenge can be supported and provided for.”
Colleagues also raised important questions around how and when the strategy will be implemented, with Baroness Walmsley asking for an update on timelines for implementation of the Governments obesity strategy and assurance that people all across the country will have easy access to a full range of services. Baroness Jolly developed the point on local provision of services by asking about Government plans to require that local Integrated Care Systems provide a local obesity strategy.
Baroness Stuart, Baroness Boycott and Baroness Thornton all made excellent points about our relationship with food; Baroness Boycott arguing that as well as restricting access to unhealthy food a successful strategy must involve the promotion of healthy food and called for a public health campaign to tell people how to eat healthily. Baroness Stewart highlighted the fundamental link between food and agriculture and argued for the deepening of our understanding of the relationship between agriculture, the provision of our food and health and Baroness Thornton called for the introduction of healthy food standards in public places such as hospitals, schools and care homes.
This area of policy is of great interest to me as I have personally enjoyed the benefits of living an active life and believe in the great benefit to individuals and communities of a well-funded, well-coordinated and successful approach to public health at both national and regional level. I’m also incredibly optimistic about the potential afforded by deploying new technologies to these ends, we have witnessed the incredible success of fitness trackers ranging from apps like Strava, to start up Sweatcoin, the increasing prevalence of wearables and AI powered personal trainers or chat buddies. There is much to be excited about in terms of technology and innovation in this space and it is deadly serious.
Solving the obesity crisis has to be seen as significant as climate change and Covid: they all kill.
Watch the full House of Lords debate here