In this blog, Prof Jim McManus, Association of Directors of Public Health (ADPH) President welcomes the launch of the Obesity Health Alliance manifesto which sets out an ambitious agenda.

The scale of the challenge demands honesty, brave decisions and long-term thinking, and Directors of Public Health (DsPH) are committed to playing their part in delivering it.

Around two-thirds (63%) of adults are above a healthy weight, and of these, half are living with obesity.[1] In England alone, one in three children leaving primary school is overweight.1 Furthermore, the prevalence of obesity is highest amongst the most deprived groups in society, with children in the most deprived areas being more than twice as likely to be living with obesity than those in the least deprived.1

Given that obesity is associated with reduced life expectancy and conditions like type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer, the consequences are clear – obesity costs. In fact, Government estimates put the cost of obesity at £27 billion to wider society.

The public understand this alarming picture, and support a bolder agenda, with polling for the OHA showing overwhelming support for action like reductions in sugar from everyday products, banning junk food ads before nine o’clock at night, and the promotion of unhealthy foods near checkouts.

The OHA’s manifesto is a focused blueprint for delivery. By prioritising children’s health, building on what works and empowering local communities we can, in partnership, make a real difference. DsPH work together with a range of organisations to develop effective, collaborative plans at a local level to, for example, reduce the amount of junk food advertising and create healthier high streets.

ADPH, as the national voice of local public health, are proud to host the recently established English Healthy Weight Commissioners’ Group which provides a strategic forum for local authority leads with commissioning responsibility for prevention programmes, treatment services and other interventions to promote healthy weight.

The Government must play its part too and replicate this on a national level with vision, will, cross-departmental working and funding – including investing in the public health grant which has been cut by 26% since 2015/6.

We urgently need to turn the tide on growing levels of obesity by tackling the powerful factors that are fighting against creating a healthy society. Over the coming months, each party will develop their manifestos ahead of the next general election and there is a huge consensus for action to achieve healthy weight. The OHA, a leading coalition in this field, must now redouble the collective effort to engage parties and politicians.

The good news is that change is possible, the OHA are paving the way and by putting healthy weight at the heart of policy and decision-making, people will be able to enjoy living healthier lives, for longer.

For more information about the work of the Association of Directors of Public Health, please visit their website here.

[1] Office for Health Improvement and Disparities. Obesity Profile. Available online. Accessed: May 2023.