Watch: Dr Hilary Jones: Coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated obesity
Losing weight is “not just about vanity” and action is needed to reverse indirect harms such as reduced activity that emerged during the coronavirus pandemic, a leading doctor has said.
TV medic Dr Hilary Jones described “almost an epidemic of obesity” in the UK, which he said has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 crisis. The GP explained that losing weight is “as important as giving up smoking”, with many physical and psychological benefits, as well as “looking better on the scales”.
Blaming the impact of the pandemic for the nation's weight gain, he explained that lockdowns and isolation have encouraged people to comfort-eat during the time when normal work and socialising became difficult or impossible.
“It’s what we call the indirect harms of the pandemic," Dr Jones said. "So people have sort of locked themselves in in their four walls at home, they’re eating for comfort, they’re eating because they’re bored, they’re taking less physical activity… yes, it has been an indirect harm, and now we need to reverse that.
“It’s never too late to reverse those things."
He acknowledged that getting motivated to diet or exercise in winter can be very challenging for many, saying, "So, we’ve had the longest night … the darkest hours, now the days are getting longer, and every day we have opportunity to take a bit of exercise, whatever it is, to think about what we eat, about the portion sizes that we’re consuming and what we’re eating, and we need to reverse the indirect harms caused by the pandemic, for sure, but there’s no reason we can’t do that.”
Although many may feel that they're too old, have gained too much weight to tackle it, or are simply too tired to un-peel themselves from the sofa, Dr Jones insisted that no matter what, people are never past “the point of no return” when it comes to losing weight, and a loss of just 5% of a person’s bodyweight can have “enormous benefits” in multiple areas.
He urged people to set themselves “a target that gives them a challenge”, such as a 5km run or obstacle course, and to buddy up with a friend to keep motivated.
"Start with little steps," he urged. “No, you might not see anything happen in the first week or even the second week, but bit by bit, and much quicker than it took to put on the weight, you will start to turn things around, your body will appreciate what you’re doing.”
Dr Jones was speaking to mark the launch of a new Better Health campaign, backed by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and the NHS.
More than six in 10 adults (63%) are estimated to have an increased risk from serious illnesses or becoming seriously ill with coronavirus because they are overweight, it is warning.
The campaign is highlighting six benefits that could have a lasting impact on a person by being a healthier weight. These include reducing the risk of common cancers, heart disease, diabetes, increased blood pressure and being admitted to hospital with Covid-19, and less strain from chronic back and joint pain.
Public health minister Maggie Throup said: “January is a great time of the year for making resolutions and I hope that people can use this as a kick-start moment to be more active and eat more healthily – especially when losing body weight can have such a positive impact on our health, including reducing the chance of becoming seriously ill with Covid-19.”
Deputy chief medical officer Dr Jeanelle de Gruchy, who is joint lead for the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, said: “The new year is a great time to make some healthy changes.
“The Better Health campaign outlines the benefits of losing weight and gives people the tools and resources to make small changes to improve their health.”
Watch: 12 Top healthy eating habits according to a dietician
Additional reporting, PA Media