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.