Government plans to tackle obesity in England

From: Department of Health and Social Care Media Centre
Published: Wed Jun 07 2023

Obesity costs the NHS around £6.5 billion a year and is the second biggest preventable cause of cancer.

Over one in four (26%) adults and 23.4% of children aged 10-11 years in England are living with obesity, placing huge pressure on the health and care system.

We're taking action to help people make healthier choices to tackle obesity, reduce pressure on the NHS and boost the economy.

Here's everything you need to know:

What are you doing to tackle obesity?

We have set up the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID) to focus on improving the nation's health and tackle preventable conditions such as obesity.

We have introduced a series of measures including:

  • Restricting the placement of less healthy products in stores and online - for example near cashiers - to reduce the likelihood of impulse purchases.
  • Introducing calorie labelling on menus in restaurants, cafes and takeaways so people know exactly how many calories are in their orders, helping them to make informed decisions about their choice of food.
  • The NHS has introduced a soups and shakes diet for people with Type 2 diabetes.
  • We have announced a £20 million obesity mission to explore new treatments and digital technologies which could support people achieve a healthier weight.
  • We have invested £320 million a year in school sports to help children and young people have an active start to life.

We also work with the NHS and local authorities to support people living with obesity reach a healthier weight by developing effective preventative care plans for those at high risk of weight gain and diet-related illness. Services range from behavioural weight management programmes to consideration of weight loss drugs and bariatric surgery.

What about new weight loss drugs?

  • Weight loss treatments can help people living with obesity to live longer, healthier lives.
  • The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has concluded semaglutide, marketed as Wegovy, is safe, effective and affordable. It recommended it is offered to adults with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of at least 35 and a weight-related health condition - such as diabetes or high blood pressure. Other drugs are currently under consideration in clinical trials.
  • NICE advises Wegovy should only be available via specialist weight management services, which are largely hospital based. This would mean only around 35,000 people would have access to Wegovy, when tens of thousands more could be eligible.
  • The government has announced £40 million pilots to explore how these drugs can be made available to more people by expanding specialist weight management services outside of hospital settings. This includes looking at how GPs could safely prescribe these drugs and how the NHS can provide support in the community or digitally.
  • There is evidence from clinical trials that, when prescribed alongside diet, physical activity and behavioural support, people taking a weight-loss drug can lose over 15% of their body weight after one year.

What are your plans for the future?

  • From October 2023, we will ban multibuy promotions like Buy One Get One Free (BOGOF) on less healthy food.
  • From October 2025 we will ban the advertisement of less healthy products on television, on-demand programmes and online before the watershed - from 9pm to 5.30am. This will mean fewer people, especially children, will view adverts. Evidence shows exposure to adverts for unhealthy foods can affect when people eat and when the eat, leading to excess calorie consumption over time.
  • Our Major Conditions Strategy call for evidence is seeking views from the public on how the healthcare system can support people to live healthier lives, including how we can help people to achieve or maintain a healthy weight.

Have the measures been successful so far?

  • We have seen the average sugar content of retailer and manufacturer branded drinks subject to the Soft Drinks Industry Levy decreasing by 46% between 2015 and 2020. Recent research estimated this may have prevented around 5,000 cases of obesity in Year 6 girls (aged 10-11 years), across all socio-economic groups.
  • The sugar reduction programme has seen a 14.9% reduction of sugar in retailer and manufacturer branded breakfast cereals and 13.5% reduction in yogurts and fromage frais.
  • The NHS soups and shakes diet programme has seen over 2,000 people with Type 2 diabetes lose an average of 13kg (over two stone) in three months. This has now been expanded to 11 more regions in England.
  • Over the next 25 years, restrictions on the placement of less healthy food in shops and online are expected to bring health benefits of over £57 billion and provide NHS savings of over £4 billion.
  • Calorie labelling is expected to bring health benefits of £4.6 billion and provide NHS savings of £430 million over 25 years.
Company: Department of Health and Social Care Media Centre

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