Katie Cavanna: Obesity is one of the biggest health crises the country faces


Obesity - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

While we all focus, as a community, on the aftermath of lockdown, now is the time to reflect on life before Covid-19.

Let's learn from where we were, so we can implement sustainable change that ensures a long-lasting impact.

This week, the Government released a new strategy designed to tackle our eating habits and encourage all of us to be more active.

Covid-19 has now done what the soaring rates of type 2 diabetes and NHS bills have not done, starkly demonstrating that obesity is very bad for everyone's health – even that of a prime minister.

A raft of measures have been revealed as part of the Government's new obesity strategy to get the nation fit and healthy, protect themselves against Covid-19 and protect the NHS.

Obesity is one of the biggest health crises the country faces. Almost two-thirds (63 per cent) of adults in England are overweight or living with obesity – and one in three children leave primary school overweight or obese, with obesity-related illnesses costing the NHS £6 billion a year.

The urgency of tackling the obesity timebomb has been brought to the fore by evidence of the link to an increased risk from Covid-19.

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Living with excess weight puts people at greater risk of serious illness or death from Covid-19, with risk growing substantially as body mass index (BMI) increases.

Almost eight per cent of critically ill patients with Covid-19 in intensive care units have been morbidly obese, compared with 2.9 per cent of the general population.

As the Government continues to respond to this unprecedented global pandemic, ministers have set out a comprehensive package of measures to help people take control of their own future by losing weight, getting active and adopting a healthier lifestyle.

Rather than focusing primarily on childhood obesity, the strategy represents a new focus on empowering adults to lose weight as well.

A study undertaken in 2015, found that around one in four (23%) Reception children and one in three (32 per cent) Year 6 children are identified as being overweight or obese in South Devon and Torbay (SD&T).

When you examine the effects of obesity, these are very big, very fundamental problems; essentially poverty and poor educational attainment.

People with little money often buy cheap, filling food that is high in fat, salt and sugar.

They may live in areas where there are more takeaway chicken shops than greengrocers and they may not know what foods are nutritious or how to cook them.

They may also not live very active lives. Many people have limited space, no garden and either no sports facilities nearby or nothing they can afford. Anyone can go for a walk, but it's not so much fun in a traffic-clogged, inner-city street.

At the beginning of lockdown, RE4orm launched Food 4 Torbay, a project designed to support families across the community with healthy, nutritious meals – with fresh and locally-sourced ingredients.

With the support of a number of local restaurants, Team RE4orm delivered thousands of meals each week, ensuring families were supplied with meals and food parcels.

This was a quick-fix during an unprecedented time. Although we continue to supply meals, our long-term strategy is focused on education and life-long learning.

There is an abundance of fantastic provision well placed within Torbay to tackle obesity and empower change. From the community kitchen at Eat That Frog, to Jordan in the Community, to Club WeSUP, to the play leaders at Play Torbay – the wealth of expertise, at the heart of our community is clearly evident. Yet, this all needs funding.

This provision needs support. In a naturally-inspiring community surrounded by breath-taking nature, we should be united as a community to ensure we are leading healthy lives.

While foodbanks have become a necessity, these cannot be relied upon. In 2020, it is simply astounding that families need to rely on foodbanks. We cannot continue to put plasters on these issues, sustainable and funded early help must be implemented.