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The Guardian view on obesity: prevention is as important as cure | Editorial

Treatments that allow people to live healthier lives are welcome, but ministers must tackle the causes of this condition

If an epidemic suddenly began to cause thousands of deaths in Britain, you would expect a swift ministerial response. Between April 2019 and March 2020, more than a million hospital admissions in England were linked to obesity. Because this crisis has crept up slowly, the reaction from government has been weak. Since 1992, ministers have produced 14 strategies on obesity, containing 689 policies. All have failed to reduce the prevalence of this condition: 26% of adults and 34% of secondary school children in England are now obese.

The current government seems more interested in magic-bullet treatments than prevention. The health secretary, Steve Barclay, recently announced funding for “cutting-edge” obesity treatments and technologies, while ministers have since praised new obesity jabs approved by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence for those with a body mass index (BMI) over 35. Pharmaceutical companies have been betting on the UK’s increasingly unhealthy population: a recent investigation found that Novo Nordisk, the firm that manufactures the Wegovy slimming jab that will soon be rolled out over pharmacy counters in England, had spent millions on a PR campaign before its jab was approved. It is now funding the expansion of NHS weight-loss services in England.

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