The current covid-19 pandemic has focussed attention on the variability in personal risk of serious illness. After age and ethnicity, one of the most important factors associated with developing serious covid complications, requiring admission to hospital or ICU, is being overweight.
Excess weight has long been known to be a risk factor for ill-health, though governments have rarely encouraged weight loss, and have even been cautious about interventions which may help to prevent obesity developing, for fear of accusations of ‘nannying’ or because of opposition by the food industry. However covid-19 seems to have sparked a notable change. In the United Kingdom, the Prime Minister, who acknowledges he is overweight, suffered complications from covid-19, and since his recovery has launched a new government plan to tackle obesity. This offers more support to people trying to lose weight and promises much greater action to curb unhealthy eating habits.
Professor Susan Jebb is a nutrition scientist with a special interest in designing and testing public health interventions to prevent and treat obesity. In this conversation, we shall explore the policy options available to governments and other bodies to tackle obesity and ask whether, as we emerge from the pandemic, there will be a new focus on the benefits of a healthy body weight.
Professor Susan Jebb
Professor of Diet and Population Health
Professor Jebb co-leads the Wellcome Trust-funded LEAP project. As a nutrition scientist her research interests are focused on how what we eat affects the risk of gaining weight or becoming obese and the interventions that might be effective to help people lose weight or reduce the risk of obesity-related diseases.
She has also conducted a series of randomised controlled trials to study the impact of dietary changes on the risk factors for cardiovascular disease. In general, this work highlights that body weight is a more important risk factor for ill-health than differences in the nutritional composition of the diet. She has strong scientific collaborations with the Behaviour and Health Research unit at the University of Cambridge and the MRC Human Nutrition Research unit, where she was a Programme Leader for many years.
Professor Sir Charles Godfray
Director, Oxford Martin School
Professor Charles Godfray was appointed Director of the Oxford Martin School on 1 February 2018.
He is a population biologist with broad interests in the environmental sciences and has published in fundamental and applied areas of ecology, evolution and epidemiology.
He is interested in how the global food system will need to change and adapt to the challenges facing humanity in the 21st century, and in particular in the concept of sustainable intensification, and the relationship between food production, ecosystem services and biodiversity.
In 2017 he was knighted for services to scientific research and for scientific advice to government.