Government monitoring the nation’s snack intake amid fears pandemic will trigger obesity boom

Experts are concerned about the impact that lockdown restrictions have had on the waistlines of millions of adults – and the long-term health implications this may have

Kate Devlin
Whitehall Editor
Friday 08 January 2021 18:43
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Boris Johnson says he 'struggles with his weight'

Ministers are monitoring the nation’s snack intake amid fears that repeated coronavirus lockdowns are fuelling a surge in obesity.  

Information on the UK’s snacking habits and nutritional intake has been added to a monitoring tool used by Public Health England to assess the wider impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the nation’s health, with figures showing that sales of “sweet home cooking” goods rose by almost a quarter in the year to June.  

“Take home confectionery” purchases increased by 16.5 per cent, while the number of biscuits purchased went up by 12 per cent.  

Ministers have already committed to banning multi-buy offers on junk food as part of a major new public health drive announced by Boris Johnson earlier this year, but it is thought that more restrictions could be considered if unhealthy eating habits continue to increase.

The crackdown, unveiled in July, came after the prime minister admitted that his weight had been too high when he was struck down by Covid-19 over Easter, and was aimed at getting Britons to lose weight, making them less susceptible to a second wave of the pandemic.  

But there are now fears that the effects of multiple lockdowns this winter will lead to long-term health problems which will linger even if a vaccine removes the immediate threat from Covid-19. 

The government is concerned that the pandemic could affect the long-term health of the country for years to come.  

The Independent revealed in November that plans to restart a scheme to weigh schoolchildren had been accelerated following warnings that the events of last year had exacerbated the UK’s childhood obesity programme. But experts are also concerned about the impact that measures taken to fight the virus have had on the waistlines of millions of adults. 

They believe exercise levels have plummeted and snacking levels soared as millions made the switch overnight from working in an office to working from home. 

Data shows that obese people are significantly more likely to become seriously ill and be admitted to intensive care with Covid-19 compared with those who have a healthy body mass index.

Experts warn that extra weight can put pressure on our bodies and reduce the ability to fight off serious diseases.

In addition, a whole host of dangerous illnesses, such as diabetes, are linked to too much weight.  

Tam Fry, the chair of the National Obesity Forum, said analysis of what food millions of people are buying is important.  

“It is vital for us to know what is going on in households,” he said.  

There was no clear evidence of how much weight adults had put on during the pandemic.  

“At the moment we have no idea," he said, but his expectation is that the final numbers will be “quite significant”.  

He warned that the problem could dog efforts to improve health outcomes in the UK for years: “Putting on weight is chicken feed. Taking it off takes a long time.”  

He added that excess weight has been linked to a number of different diseases.  

“Weight is a real killer and I do not say that lightly.  

“It is a real disaster and we have to be careful,” he said.  

A spokesperson for Public Health England said that the organisation planned to continue to look at nutritional data as part of its response to Covid-19.  

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