How Losing Weight Could Be Life-Saving - The Launch Of The 'Better Health' Campaign Gets Going
'We spend more each year on the treatment of obesity and diabetes than we do on the police, fire service and judicial system combined’.
I’ve read a few statistics concerning the cost to our country of eating more than we need, over the last three decades, but this one, released today in Public Health England’s major new adult health campaign Better Health, is rather breath-taking.
The fact is, simply by putting more food and drink in our mouths than bodies are able to burn off, ends up costing our wider society £27 billion and saw our NHS spend an estimated £6.1 billion on overweight and obese-related ill health in 2014/15 alone.
Whichever way you look at it, these facts and figures are eye-stretching in their sheer size and on the human level, awash with sadness.
I’ve seen five of my closest friends pass away over the last five years. One was epilepsy related, another had a brain tumour, another deep vein thrombosis, another stomach cancer and finally, in February this year, another’s life was claimed through exposure to asbestos.
None of them could have prevented their premature passing, but had you said to any, ‘Would you like another three and a half to four years of life?’ they would have grabbed the opportunity with open arms.
They would have done anything to spend more time getting, in Kate’s case, to laugh with her friends; in Nicki’s to watch her children’s lives unfold and jog each morning on Hampstead Heath. Christina, I suspect, would have spent her time continuing to campaign for others health, while enjoying her first years of married life. Muriel would have kept knitting endless jumpers for every new grandchild to appear, while Gianni would have trekked in his beloved Majella mountains, breathing in the crisp air and revelling in the freedom of the stunning scenes.
They did not have this opportunity for extra time on this planet. Many of the 29 per cent of women and 26 per cent of men living with obesity in the UK do, because we know that obesity brings a reduced life expectancy of three and a half years in women and just over four years in men.
Until now, it seems that we have become so familiar with the link between overweight and obesity increasing the risk of early death from heart disease, type two diabetes and stroke, the message has lost its impact. After all, when our doctors can prescribe pills to lower the risk of all of these diseases, without any change in how we eat and live, what’s the big deal? It takes the sting out of the tale.
But COVID-19 is a trickier customer. We may be able to take a tablet to reduce our blood cholesterol, sugar and pressure, but it is now known that extra weight around vital organs, makes it harder for our bodies to fight COVID-19 and there is no quick fix for medicating our way out of this when struggling for life in intensive care. As our Prime Minister, discovered.
It is true and tragic that young, physically fit and healthy weight people have lost their lives to this horrendous disease, because as we are discovering day-by-day, there are many complex reasons why an individual succumbs to it. But we do know that if we are currently carrying extra weight, reducing this to within the healthy range, cuts our risk of being critically ill with COVID-19.
In practice, this means aiming for a Body Mass Index (BMI) of below 25 and above 18.5. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends that Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups (BAME) should aim to have a BMI below 23 and above 18.5 to avoid risks to health.
So, do I support Public Health England’s newly launched Better Health campaign? Yes, absolutely. Do I think it’s another case of ‘nanny state’ contriving to ruin our fun, ban our muffins and lattes; our pies and pizzas; little tipple and take-aways? No, I don’t.
The updated NHS Weight Loss Plan doesn’t come with bells and whistles, promises of a quick-fix or instant stones dropped in a matter of weeks and nor does it come with a hefty price tag.
Instead it provides a comprehensive set of free, evidence-based tools, advice, information and support to help us to ‘reset’ our health and to both start and continue our individual weight loss journeys, which are likely to be long and bumpy.
The initial 12 weekly information packs provide diet, healthy eating and physical activity advice, including weekly challenges. The Better Health website contains ongoing support for users over time. It teaches healthier food choices and crucially, the kind of changes in behaviour and mindset which embed the vital skills needed to prevent rebound pounds.
And well worth watching is the film on the site, which shows the typical progression of weight gain with age with each actor involved having the same BMI as presented on the BMI gauge displayed by their side. Starting with a man of about 30 years old with a normal BMI, the final actor has low-level obese BMI at around 55 years of age; it is sobering and familiar stuff and a graphic reminder of just how easily weight can creep up on us as we move through the decades.
The bottom line is that weight matters, because carrying too much makes it harder for our us to fight diseases like cancer, heart disease.
Many people, like my five dear friends, will never have that chance to live an extra 46 months. If we have, with the help of logging on to nhs.uk/BetterHealth and shifting some weight, it’s hard to imagine why we wouldn’t grasp the opportunity with open arms. Especially in the light of our newfound knowledge that it could also cut our risk of being critically ill with COVID-19.