Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in TV bust-up with minister over doing ‘next to nothing’ to tackle obesity

Chef tells health secretary she is failing ‘to address the crisis’

Kate Devlin
Politics and Whitehall editor
Sunday 10 March 2024 17:59 GMT
TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall tackles Health Secretary over obesity plan

The chef and food campaigner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has become embroiled in a public clash with the health secretary after he accused the government of doing “next to nothing” to tackle obesity.

The star, famous for his River Cottage series, warned Victoria Atkins there was a crisis in Britain and that ministers had ignored a raft of policies that could fight the problem.

But Ms Atkins insisted she was working on a prevention strategy, as she said the NHS app could help people take responsibility for their own health.

She told the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg: “We make the mistake, I think, of siloing obesity by itself. We know that it can have many, many other conditions, including causing type 2 diabetes.

“So, over the coming weeks you will see the government set out our plans.

“I want to take a strategic approach to prevention and, in fact, the biggest public health intervention we can make ... which is creating the first smoke-free generation.”

Health secretary Victoria Atkins was accused of ‘doing nothing’ by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (Getty)

But Fearnley-Whittingstall, also a guest on the show on Sunday, responded to her interview by saying: “I didn’t hear any obesity strategy.”

He told the minister: “I’ve worked with many amazing agencies, with the Food Foundation, with the Obesity Health Alliance, with Jamie Oliver and his team, with Henry Dimbleby, they have all put a raft of policies, of levers that you could be pulling to address the obesity crisis. You’re not pulling any of them. You’ve done next to nothing to help the ailing, struggling, sick citizens of the UK to find healthier food. Next to nothing about it.”

Earlier, Ms Atkins had been pushed on controversial delays to measures campaigners say could trim the nation’s waistlines.

These include bans on pre-watershed adverts for junk food and multi-buy deals.

Ms Atkins defended the lack of action saying that ministers had to “reflect the society in which we serve, in which the NHS serves”.

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