The Obesity Health Alliance launches its Manifesto for the next General Election – highlighting the massive opportunity to protect child health. The next government can deliver this by building on the successes of the Soft Drinks Industry Levy and empowering local communities to make the places they live healthier.
The OHA have written to the leaders of the Conservative Party, Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats to ask their Party to commit to addressing the high levels of excess weight in the UK population, alongside publication of an OHA press release and YouGov polling data.
As a group of leading health charities, campaign groups and medical Royal Colleges, we are deeply concerned that, unless bold action is taken, excess weight will continue to drive unacceptable inequalities in health outcomes. These inequalities result in huge differences between the richest and poorest places in the UK, as well as piling pressure on the NHS, driving down economic productivity and forcing thousands of people out of the workforce.
Fortunately, the next Government has a massive opportunity to empower people to live freer, healthier and happier lives. Our manifesto for the next election, which follows this letter, outlines how children’s health can be given the priority it deserves. We can do this by building on successes like the Soft Drinks Industry Levy and empowering local communities to make the places they live healthier.
We know that the situation is serious:
- Two thirds of adults are living with overweight or obesity[i].
- More than one in three children are above a healthy weight by the time they leave primary school[ii].
- In deprived communities, childhood obesity rates are over twice as high as in the most affluent areas[iii].
People are not choosing to be unhealthier. Britons, especially the poorest in our society, are trapped in a broken food system. Unhealthy food has been made so available that it is almost unavoidable. It is heavily promoted and significantly more affordable than healthier options. We must enable people to break out of this ‘junk food cycle’[iv] by making the healthiest choices the easiest choice.
Excess weight leads to a vast array of avoidable health conditions, increasing costs to lives and the NHS. In 2019/2020, there were over one million NHS admissions in England where obesity was a factor[v], in 2022/23, the NHS expected to treat up to a further 1,000 children a year for severe complications related to their obesity[vi]. New research estimates that patients living with obesity cost the NHS twice as much as those in a healthy weight range[vii]. Frontier Economics estimates that the NHS spends £6.5 billion annually on treating obesity-related ill health in England alone[viii].
Excess weight is keeping people out of the workforce. People living with obesity take four extra sick days a year on average – 37 million extra sick days in the UK, another £4 billion is spent on welfare support for obesity-related inactivity[ix]. Obesity and its associated illnesses are also major contributing factors to the 2.5 million currently out of work due to long-term sickness[x].
Action on obesity is crucial to delivering your key economic priorities of creating a sustainable and growing economy by improving productivity and reducing ill-health related inactivity. The evidence is overwhelming that action on the key drivers of obesity is cost-effective.
Unhealthy food is accessible, abundant and normalised. The public wants this to change but many struggle to break free of an environment that is soaked in fat, salt and sugar. They overwhelmingly support government action to tackle the flood of junk food advertising that bombards us every day[xi].
There are also opportunities to work with the UK’s life sciences sector to deliver change. While prevention of obesity must be the primary aim for a healthy society, new drug treatments look promising as another option to help people with severe and long-term obesity, when prescribed alongside effective weight management services.
Every government for decades has failed to take the necessary action to improve people’s lives. In the last 30 years, there have been nearly 700 government recommendations for addressing obesity in England and very few were implemented[xii]. While there is no silver bullet to solving obesity, the next Prime Minister has a series of evidence-informed levers to pull that can stop it in its tracks, as outlined in our one-page manifesto.
We hope this manifesto outlines some further steps that can make children’s lives healthier, freer, and happier.
Sincerely, on behalf of the wider coalition,
The OHA Steering Group
Katharine Jenner, Director of the Obesity Health Alliance
Dr Camilla Kingdon, President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health
Ben Reynolds, Deputy CEO of Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming
Dr Sarah Clarke, President, Royal College of Physicians
Bridget Turner, Director of Policy, Diabetes UK
Michelle Mitchell, Chief Executive, Cancer Research UK
Dr Charmaine Griffiths, Chief Executive, British Heart Foundation
Professor Kevin Fenton, President, Faculty of Public Health
Professor David Strain, Chair of the Board of Science, British Medical Association
[x] ONS (2022) Half a million more people are out of the labour force [accessed 17th May 2023]
[xi] YouGov, OHA May 2023- 75% adults agree with banning unhealthy food and drink adverts being shown to children on TV before 9pm
[xii] Theis, D & White, M (2021) Is Obesity Policy in England Fit for Purpose? Analysis of Government Strategies and Policies, 1992–2020 [accessed 17th May 2023]