Welfare cuts risk fueling obesity by making it harder for poorest to eat well, doctors say

BMA meeting urges the Government to do more on obesity

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The Government’s welfare and benefit cuts risk fuelling Britain’s obesity epidemic by making it more difficult for people on low incomes to access healthy food, doctors have said.

An annual representative meeting of the British Medical Association in Liverpool heard that doctors “would not stand” for Government plans to cut benefits for those who did not lose weight.

“This Government has committed itself to huge welfare cuts and before the election the Tories mused with the idea of withdrawing welfare benefits from obese people who do not engage with services and do not lose weight in the specific time frame,” said Dr Luke Boyle of the BMA's Lothian Division.

“We aren't going to stand for this. I have a message for David Cameron, George Osborne, Iain Duncan Smith and the others involved: The way to deal with obesity is to educate people as soon as possible in childhood and enable them to buy healthy food, not make the poorest in our country worst off and force them to live on fish suppers.

“The Government is prepared to take on banks and chase them out of the country, but it's not prepared to actually deal with the food industry, who could be doing a lot more.”

The meeting passed a number of proposals by Dr Boyle calling for the Government to appoint a new obesity tsar, and to make educational and medical nutrition a part of medical education.

Other inner-city doctors spoke of the difficulty of obtaining cheap, healthy meals in their local areas, particularly in inner cities with limited access to supermarkets.

Dr Michelle Drage, chief executive of the London Local Medical Committee, said local authorities should licence chicken shops – a policy previously proposed by Labour MP Diane Abbott.


She spoke of “row after row” of fried chicken shops in inner city boroughs like Tower Hamlets that correspond with areas of low life expectancy.

In March the Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology journal published a study that said proposals by the Conservatives to cut benefits for obese people who refuse treatment could force hundreds to choose between weight loss surgery or losing their welfare payments.

“Too many people are stuck on sickness benefits because of issues that could be addressed but instead are not,” David Cameron said earlier this year when he announced the policy was being looked at.

“Some have drug or alcohol problems, but refuse treatment. In other cases people have problems with their weight that could be addressed, but instead a life on benefits rather than work becomes the choice."

“It is not fair to ask hardworking taxpayers to fund the benefits of people who refuse to accept the support and treatment that could help them get back to a life of work.”

Additional reporting by PA