Former food czar says tackling obesity is as important as small boats and inflation

Former food czar Henry Dimbleby says weight is a problem

Former food czar Henry Dimbleby says weight is a problem (Image: Shutterstock/Getty)

Former food czar Henry Dimbleby fears the UK’s obesity crisis is now so bad that much of the population could end up on pills. His warning comes against the background of the ongoing inability to fight the epidemic.

The buy-one-get-one-free bans on unhealthy foods have been put on hold, and plans to ban TV advertising for junk products before the year 2100 have been pushed back to October 2025.

Mr Dimbleby, 52, said: “We needed the TV advertising ban yesterday – it can’t wait until the next general election. I think that should be a priority for politicians, along with the things they keep talking about, like stopping small boats and fighting inflation.

“If we don’t want to drug the population, we have to get started before the next election. Do I think it will happen? No. I think we’ll end up doing drugs [much of] the population.”

His dire warning comes as successive containment strategies by makers of highly processed foods have been shelved, while health officials resort to drugs to more easily combat love handles.

READ MORE: Four foods you should add to your breakfast to lower cholesterol – advice from a nutritionist

Health chiefs are turning to drugs to fight obesity

Health bosses are turning to drugs to fight obesity (Image: Getty)

The Department for Health and Social Care has invested £20million of taxpayers’ money to test new “treatments and technologies against obesity”. The weight-loss drug semaglutide was recently approved by the drug rationing agency NICE.

Mr Dimbleby and an expert panel of advisers were at the heart of the attempt to drive systemic change, but ministers ignored all of their recommendations save for putting calorie counts on restaurant menus. It has caused Britain to sink into oblivion.

He said: “The government has made a fundamental mistake. They think it’s a little too politically difficult, but focus groups say otherwise.

“Both Labor and the Tories believe this is not popular in the Red Wall, that it is part of a culture war of sorts and that they will lose votes through takeovers of advertising and junk food suppliers – they won’t. “

“As soon as I wrote the nutrition strategy, I had to shout about it. I felt like we had taken a step backwards in terms of health. Boris Johnson wanted to act but was kicked out in the tall grass.

“The final straw that broke the camel’s back for me was when [former Health Secretary] Sajid Javid was about to publish his white paper on health inequalities, but Johnson resigned and that fell through. I had done enough to stop the bus going over the cliff – I had to jump off the bus.

Dimbleby says government should focus on weight loss

Dimbleby says government should focus on weight loss (Image: Jonathan Buckmaster)

“I have served under five foreign ministers and four prime ministers. Issues like these require a strong, focused center. There was chaos at number 10, so I’m not surprised there’s no progress.”

But what critics say is most worrying is the failure to stop the promotion of junk food to children.

The ubiquitous availability has meant that convenience has become the norm. Few schools teach basic lifelong skills like sourcing produce and cooking fresh food from scratch, while the rise of app-based fast-food deliveries has left much of the nation idle and dependent on others.

In our hectic lives, supermarkets sell cheap, factory-made on-the-go treats and juggle work with family commitments, while millions are bombarded with marketing bids for sugary products every day. Mr Dimbleby says three emergency measures would help stem the tide but harbors little hope of anything happening.

He said, “Politics can’t be made if we don’t see the problem.” This isn’t just about willpower, it’s about changing the commercial incentives of companies that make 85 percent of processed foods that are too unhealthy to market to children.

“The second is to introduce advertising restrictions. And the third is to review the cost of living for those in poverty and expand free school meals and healthy start initiatives [which provide free and cut-priced fresh fruit and vegetables]. All three would have a tremendous impact.

28 percent of the population is overweight

28 percent of the population is overweight (Image: Getty)

“But here’s what I think will happen. It is very likely that no one has the courage to confront this awful food issue. So I think it’s likely that a third of the population could end up taking appetite suppressants. It buys us time, but drugs are never quite what they seem. You will have all sorts of side effects and people will get scared.

“I think if you have a body mass over 35 and are struggling with obesity and diet-related diseases, you should talk to your GP about semaglutide – it might help you.” But we shouldn’t use it as a solution.”

Shocking statistics show how Britain fought and lost a battle against the bulge. In 1950, only 1 percent of the population was obese. Today it is 28 percent.

Father-of-three Mr Dimbleby recoiled in horror when a friend told him how he assessed the looming crisis. They said, “It’s a depressing world and a lot of people end up on antidepressants.” What’s the difference here?”

He said: “I became vaguely aware of diabetes while writing the school meal plan and talking to doctors in 2013.

“Things really shocked me when I was working on the National Nutrition Strategy and I was talking to people who were diabetic. It is a serious illness. One patient told me he would die if he didn’t get medication. They had gone from being alive to someone being kept alive by drugs.

Former food czar Henry Dimbleby

The book Ravenous by former food czar Henry Dimbleby (Image: Jonathan Buckmaster)

“This is invisible to a lot of people, but totally ubiquitous. The thought is, if you have it, you are lazy and have no willpower.

“It’s a disease that lives in the shadows. It’s not innocent like cancer.

“Andy Haldane, the former chief economist at the Bank of England, said the only thing holding us back from GDP growth is more sick people, and a big chunk of that is diet-related diseases.

“The NHS is siphoning money from every other government department because there is nobody to let it sink.

“What we will have is stagnant tax revenues and a stagnant economy while becoming an increasingly sick and impoverished nation. And the government – ​​whatever color it is – will deal with it. It is frightening.”

Ravenous: How to Get Ourselves and Our Planet into Shape by Henry Dimbleby starring Jemima Lewis is published by Profile Books.

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