27 Jul 2020

The British Dietetic Association has cautiously welcomed the government’s latest obesity plans and commitment to expand weight management services as a positive next step, but have urged them to go further if they want their strategy to be truly comprehensive.

The Association has called for further detail on how weight management services will expand, but look forward to working with the Department of Health to ensure dietitians are closely involved.

They also urge the government need to push ahead with its promised changes in areas such as high fat, sugar and salt product advertising and instore promotions which have been discussed for many years.

Greater access to Specialist Obesity Services urgently needed

Dr Adrian Brown RD, Vice-Chair of the BDA Obesity Specialist Group welcomes the strategy but wants to see more on specialist obesity services for those with complex obesity.

“I am pleased to finally see that obesity is high on the Government's agenda and that there are plans to expand on the availability of Tier 2 weight management services in England. Despite this the strategy fails to address the inadequate funding for Tier 3 and 4 services in England, which has resulted in specialist obesity services being a “postcode lottery” and thousands of patients unable to access support. If Boris Johnson is serious about addressing obesity in England, he urgently needs to increase access to effective long-term treatments for those living with severe and complex obesity"

Vinod Menon, secretary to the British Obesity and Metabolic Surgery Society (BOMSS), also highlighted the need for more specialist services, including bariatric surgery. 

"BOMSS welcomes the Government’s renewed focus on obesity and congratulates the efforts to enhance the prevention strategy. We are delighted to work with BDA in consolidating this. However there exists a large gap in the treatment of patients living with severe and complex obesity, whose needs are unmet by these measures. We remain optimistic that further steps will be considered in the near future including surgery to help this cohort of patients".

An approach for every age group needed

Dr Julie Lanigan RD, Co-Chair of the BDA Paediatric Specialist Group, urges the government to make sure the shift to supporting adults as well does not distract from helping children, families and expectant mothers;

“I welcome the spirit of this new strategy. A ban on adverts and deals that make less healthy foods appealing and more readily available is a positive step; but it’s not just about caring for ourselves. Government needs to go further to protect children, families and vulnerable people. A life course approach is essential if we are to tackle the underlying causes of overweight and obesity and this should start with our youngest children.

“Almost a quarter of children already have overweight on starting school. At this age, simple interventions can help slow weight gain and avert the path to obesity. As children grow older though it becomes harder to reverse obesity as lifestyles become ingrained. It’s not enough just to change the environment we live in. A two-pronged strategy is essential where alongside the changes proposed children and families have the help and support they need to live a healthy life. I hope our children, tomorrow's adults, are not lost in this new strategy."

Need to address wider, systemic issues

Dr Amanda Avery RD, Chair of the BDA Obesity Specialist Group, welcomes news that shops will be encouraged to discount healthy foods as well as end promotions of HFSS products, but urges more action on wider health inequalities.

‘It is great that the strategy suggests that there will be more discounts on foods like fruit and vegetables, but overall, the strategy fails to recognise the huge health inequalities that exist and the fact that both individuals and families with low incomes often struggle to access a healthier diet. I really hope we will see more detail on how these issues will be addressed – it is better to address the root causes than to try to treat the symptoms”

Positives in the plan, but important not to place all emphasis on the individual

The BDA can see some further positive measures described in the plan, but feel more detail is needed. Promises to expand existing programmes such as the Diabetes Prevention Programme and a new app to support people with weight loss sound promising, but the BDA urges the government to avoid placing all the emphasis on the individual, and to recognise the complex nature of obesity.

Equally important, politicians and the media must avoid stigmatising and discriminatory language around weight, which we know has a serious impact on the physical and mental health of those living with obesity.  

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