The Government is considering making it mandatory for restaurants and takeaways to display calorie counts. (PA)
7 min read24 July
Boris Johnsons distressing anti-obesity plan to make restaurants and takeaways display calories could set back recovery for people battling eating disorders, the Government has been warned.
Leading campaigners told PoliticsHome that proposals expected to be unveiled next week risked making life harder for the estimated 1.25 million Brits with eating disorders.
And they warned the Government against fat-shaming and embarrassing rhetoric aimed at guilt-tripping people into losing weight.
A wide-ranging plan to combat obesity is expected to be unveiled next week, with the Government set to seek views on compulsory calorie counts for restaurant and takeaway menus, as well as a national campaign aimed at encouraging people to seek daily exercise.
Mr Johnson a longstanding critic of nanny state measures to tackle obesity admitted last month that he had ditched his libertarian position after his own brush with coronavirus.
Obesity is a major risk factor for the disease, and the PM is reported to have shed two stone himself since going into hospital.
As part of the strategy, the Government is said to be mulling a crackdown on junk food advertising and supermarket food promotions.
"Although Im eleven years into my recovery, actually I know that if I went into a restaurant where the calories were on the menu I would look at them and I would find it quite distressing" - Hope Virgo, eating disorder campaigner
But campaigners are warning that some of the proposed measures run directly counter to the medical advice given to people struggling with a range of eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder.
Andrew Radford, chief executive of eating disorders charity Beat told PoliticsHome that previous government campaigns had caused serious distress to people with eating disorders.
They give messages that amplify the eating disorder that they have to deal with all of the time, and contradict the therapies and the treatment that they have been given, encouraging people not be frightened of any particular food, he said.
Mr Radford warned: Each time there is a campaign launched by Public Health England or when you get a TV programme [focused on losing weight] our beneficiary groups, people affected by eating disorders find it incredibly distressing.
And we end up with people saying: this is triggering me back into eating disorders, this is undermining my recovery, or this is just making me really, really angry on a number of levels.
People in recovery from an eating disorder are often taught to disregard calorie counts as they begin to return to a more normal eating pattern with Mr Radford saying of previous government campaigns: Theyre good at fat-shaming and theyre good at triggering peoples calorie-counting behaviours.
But theres no evidence that Ive seen that demonstrates that they have any impact at all in tackling obesity.
'PRE-OCCUPIED WITH CALORIE COUNTING'
Hope Virgo, who is herself in recovery from an eating disorder and has led a campaign to stop GPs relying on the BMI measure of someones weight to diagnose such conditions, said any move to add compulsory calorie counts to menus would would make people nervous.
It would mean that you would walk into that restaurant and you would pick your meal based on calories, she told PoliticsHome.
It would take out all the enjoyment of food. Although Im eleven years into my recovery, actually I know that if I went into a restaurant where the calories were on the menu I would look at them and I would find it quite distressing.
And also youd have people who, like my friends for example who have never struggled with food they would start to become pre-occupied with the calorie-counting and talk about it. People would start to kind of compete over that lower size.
Warning against scare tactics and a one-size-fits-all model in the Governments anti-obesity push, Ms Virgo said: My fear is that, actually by doing it the way that they do it, it makes people with eating disorders feel really awful about themselves and it makes them start to question where theyre at in their recovery.
She added: It also creates a society where disordered eatings just so normal and calorie-counting becomes normal and obsessive exercise becomes normal.
Ms Virgo also warned against appalling and embarassing rhetoric from the Government after Mr Johnson was quoted as saying: Dont be a fatty in your fifties.
"Actually at the moment there are a lot of women, and men, in their forties and fifties who struggle with food," she said of the comments.
We dont think about it as an eating disorder at that age. And its really hard for them to get that support.
And with statements like that it just puts more pressure on those individuals and just adds that layer of complication to someone who may be trying to recover.
'MUCH DEEPER PROBLEM'
That view was echoed by Liberal Democrat MP Wera Hobhouse, who heads up the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Eating Disorders and has previously pushed for improvements to treatment services for sufferers in the UK.
Ms Hobhouse warned that calorie-counts were exactly the sort of thingthat people who suffer from an eating disorder would obsessively consider.
The messaging has to be very, very careful, she warned the Prime Minister.
And she added: Unless you understand that there are deeper reasons for issues of obesity that are also tied into socio-economic problems, I dont think you can just solve it by snapping your finger and putting calorie counts on packages of food.
It has to go much, much deeper. There is a much deeper problem than just saying alright, ban some buy one get one free deals.
'DON'T IGNORE IMPACT' ON SUFFERERS
Beat has said the Government must listento experts on eating disorders asthe new anti-obesity plan is consulted on in the coming months, andhas urged its supporters to write to the Prime Minister to ensure their voices are heard.
Mr Radford said: Obesity is a major public health problem which needs addressing, and being significantly overweight has health problems.
But lets not forget that being significantly underweight also has health problems.
And what we ask is that, when campaigns are being considered, that eating disorder specialists should be consulted as well as weight management specialists so that the potential impact on people with eating disorders can be considered and hopefully employed to mitigate it.
He told ministers: Dont ignore the impact that your campaigns will have on people with eating disorders.
Ms Hobhouse meanwhile said she would invitethe Government to talk to her all-party group when it reconvenes in September, with the anti-obesity push now top of its agenda.
Dont ignore the impact that your campaigns will have on people with eating disorders" - Andrew Radford, Beat chief executive
If the Government wants to engage with the APPG that would be a way forward, she said.
And Ms Virgo warned: I think particularly at the moment as were coming out of lockdown, were seeing so much messaging everywhere around dieting and exercise and people stressed about putting on weight.
Actually, by launching a campaign like this now, with the messaging that theyre using, its going to have such a massively negative impact on so many people.
The Department for Health and Social Care has yet to respond to a request for comment.
'REDUCE COVID RISK'
Speaking about the proposals on Friday, Mr Johnson said: "I'm not normally a believer in nannying or bossing type of politics but the reality is that obesity is one of the real comorbidity factors.
"Losing weight is frankly one of the ways that you can reduce your own risks from from COVID and, actually, it's one of the ways you can generally improve your health and protect the NHS."
- Food insecurity in the US increasingly linked to obesity - Medical News Today - September 28th, 2020
- U.S. Adult Obesity Rate Hits Highest Rate Ever Recorded - Club Industry - September 28th, 2020
- Mission: Readiness ties obesity to national security - News - Times Record - September 28th, 2020
- The Intersection Of Obesity, COVID-19, Social Justice And Mental Health - Club Industry - September 28th, 2020
- Experience of Polish Patients with Obesity in Contacts with Medical Pr | PPA - Dove Medical Press - September 28th, 2020
- Cleveland Clinic Study Identifies Weight-Loss Threshold for Cardiovascular and Survival Benefits in Patients with Obesity and Diabetes - Health... - September 28th, 2020
- Coronavirus pandemic could impact cancer rates and care in the future - WKTV - September 28th, 2020
- An obese heart is a silent risk - The Hippocratic Post - September 28th, 2020
- Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease and Heart Failure: Is There a Connection? - Michigan Medicine - September 28th, 2020
- Should India adopt NOVA classification of food? - The Sunday Guardian - September 28th, 2020
- Obesity and the Bitter Pill of Truth - Medscape - September 23rd, 2020
- Obesity and COVID-19: A renewed call to address a growing crisis - World Bank Group - September 23rd, 2020
- Negative pressure wound therapy does not cut infection risk in obese women after cesarean delivery - National Institutes of Health - September 23rd, 2020
- Obesity linked to hospitalisation and ICUs for Covid-19 patients - The Irish Times - September 23rd, 2020
- New Research Shows Potential Utility of Growth Standards to Monitor Healthy Weight in Puppies and May Help Identify Puppies at Risk for Obesity -... - September 23rd, 2020
- SCOTUS, Sallys economic effects and obesity - AL.com - September 23rd, 2020
- Obesity can cause and be consequence of poor sleep - Westside Eagle Observer - September 23rd, 2020
- Health Education Week 2020: Opportunities and Advancements in Obesity Medicine - Medical Economics - September 23rd, 2020
- COVID-19 Recovery Analysis: Assisted Reproductive Technology Market | Increase in Rate of Infertility and Obesity-Related Cases to Boost the Market... - September 23rd, 2020
- Stephanie Yeboah: 'Obesity is a disgusting word... it's just used to scare people' - Telegraph.co.uk - September 23rd, 2020
- Diabetes, Obesity and other five risk factors that can lead to heart failure - India TV News - September 23rd, 2020
- Research finds out a new phenomenon of obesity with the multiple burden of malnutrition in India - Eastern Eye - September 23rd, 2020
- WHO launches guide to boost children's health and well-being in Russian-speaking countries - Russian Federation - ReliefWeb - September 23rd, 2020
- For teens with severe obesity, bariatric surgery works, but is rarely used. Experts say that needs to change - The Detroit News - September 20th, 2020
- Obesity associated with a higher risk for dementia, new study finds - National Institute on Aging - September 20th, 2020
- Your Health First: Top underlying health conditions in North Dakota? Obesity and Type 2 diabetes - KX NEWS - September 20th, 2020
- US adult obesity at highest level ever recorded; Arkansas and Oklahoma rank in top five - 5newsonline.com - September 20th, 2020
- Coronavirus science | Week in review: 'Long Covid', obesity, and will the virus become seasonal? - Health24 - September 20th, 2020
- Mediterranean diet helps offset the health impacts of obesity - Earth.com - September 20th, 2020
- Obese people 70% more at risk of severe COVID-19: Assocham - The Indian Express - September 20th, 2020
- Could interaction between Covid-19 and pre-existing bacteria explain severity in the obese? - Health24 - September 20th, 2020
- Despicable to blame Government for Covid-19 death rate given obesity, says Tory peer - Evening Standard - September 20th, 2020
- If a heavyweight is morbidly obese why is he also fit to box? - Boxing News Online - September 20th, 2020
- Cancer Is on the Rise Among Young People - Discover Magazine - September 20th, 2020
- Letters to the Editor: Sept. 20 - Canon City Daily Record - September 20th, 2020
- Good nutrition can contribute to keeping COVID-19 and other diseases away - Kiowa County Press - September 20th, 2020
- Why COVID-19 is more deadly in people with obesityeven if they're young - Science Magazine - September 8th, 2020
- Higher obesity rates appear to contribute to higher bankruptcy rates in the United States - PsyPost - September 8th, 2020
- Worldwide Non-Invasive Fat Reduction Industry to 2025 - Increasing Prevalence of Obesity Presents Opportunities - ResearchAndMarkets.com - Business... - September 8th, 2020
- New evidence testosterone therapy is effective obesity treatment in men - New Atlas - September 8th, 2020
- Obesity is tied to greater risk of complications from COVID-19 - WWLTV.com - September 8th, 2020
- Pregnancy, Obesity and Nutrition Initiative (PONI): FIGO releases new Supplement - International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics - September 7th, 2020
- High Pleural Pressure Prevents Alveolar Overdistension and Hemodynamic Collapse in ARDS with Class III Obesity. - Physician's Weekly - September 7th, 2020
- Global Intragastric Balloon Market (2019 to 2028) - Rise in Government Initiatives Regarding Obesity Presents Opportunities - ResearchAndMarkets.com -... - September 7th, 2020
- Drugs That Fight Diabetes and Obesity May Treat Covid-19 - Bloomberg - September 6th, 2020
- COVID-19 Patients With Obesity Have Higher Viral Load, for Longer - Medscape - September 6th, 2020
- Even half a glass of alcohol increases risk of obesity, study shows - Study Finds - September 6th, 2020
- America's Obesity Epidemic Threatens Effectiveness of Any COVID Vaccine - POZ - September 6th, 2020
- 'Fat-Shaming' Drops in US but UK Public Still Apportion Blame - Medscape - September 6th, 2020
- Calls for tougher regulation to fight obesity - Newsroom - September 6th, 2020
- Consumption of alcohol even in small amounts can result in obesity and metabolic syndrome, suggests study - Firstpost - September 6th, 2020
- World's richest countries grappling with children's reading and math skills, mental well-being and obesity - UNICEF - September 6th, 2020
- Definition of Chronic disease - MedicineNet - August 31st, 2020
- America's Move to Raise A Healthier Generation of Kids ... - August 31st, 2020
- Controlled obesity status: a rarely used concept, but with particular importance in the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond - DocWire News - August 31st, 2020
- Groningen University Hospital to investigate role of obesity in patients with COVID-19 - Innovation Origins - August 31st, 2020
- Obesity and COVID-19: How weight tips the scales to severe COVID-19 illness - The Stanford Daily - August 31st, 2020
- Study finds obese people at higher risk of COVID-19 complications - Times of India - August 31st, 2020
- Childhood obesity could increase the risk of multiple sclerosis in later life - The Conversation UK - August 31st, 2020
- Peter Rhodes on an Indian romance, the risks of obesity and standing up for nice things - expressandstar.com - August 31st, 2020
- Joint Pain Injections Market: Investments by key players is driving the global market - BioSpace - August 31st, 2020
- Why your doctor will not talk to you about obesity - The Standard - August 31st, 2020
- EDITORIAL: We haven't tackled obesity - and now it's proving our downfall - Bahamas Tribune - August 31st, 2020
- Taxes on non-essential foods wont prevent obesity but they will hurt poorer people - RT - August 31st, 2020
- Losing Weight Can Help You Avoid This Type of Cancer, Study Finds - MSN Money - August 31st, 2020
- Kids in these Gloucester areas are among the most likely in the UK to be obese - Gloucestershire Live - August 31st, 2020
- MIT Develops Synthetic Coating for the Gut That Could Block Glucose Absorption to Treat Diabetes & Obesity - SciTechDaily - August 31st, 2020
- How does the immune response affect inflammation in COVID-19 patients? - World Economic Forum - August 31st, 2020
- Individuals with obesity and COVID19: A global perspective on the epidemiology and biological relationships - Wiley - August 28th, 2020
- COVID-19: Science stories of the week, from reinfection to obesity - World Economic Forum - August 28th, 2020
- Weight loss in young adults with obesity may halve mortality risk - Medical News Today - August 28th, 2020
- Professor/Associate Professor in Medicine Obesity and Metabolism job with NORWEGIAN UNIVERSITY OF SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY - NTNU | 223116 - Times... - August 28th, 2020
- Bariatric Surgery Reduces or Eliminates Need for Blood Pressure Medication in Patients With Obesity in New 3-Year Randomized Clinical Trial -... - August 28th, 2020
- Not All Vegetarian Diets Are Healthy for Those With Obesity - Science Times - August 28th, 2020
- Covid-19 impact on Weight Loss and Obesity Market New Trends, Growth, Outlook, Overview, Application and Forecast 2020 to 2025: Ajinomoto Co. Inc.,... - August 28th, 2020
- Global Market Study on Ineffective Esophageal Motility Treatment: Increasing Prevalence of GERD and Obesity to Propel Market Growth - GlobeNewswire - August 28th, 2020
- Ireland has ideal combination of leaders to tackle obesity crisis health expert - The Irish Times - August 28th, 2020
- Morbid Obesity Increases Risk of COVID-19 and Future Emerging Infectious Diseases - MedicalResearch.com - August 28th, 2020
- Obesity is the new malnutrition, parents warned ahead of UAE schools' reopening - Gulf News - August 28th, 2020
- Covid-19 impact on those who are obese should encourage better eating expert - The Irish Times - August 28th, 2020