Government urges businesses to join health professionals to tackle obesity

BMJ 2008; 337 doi: (Published 25 July 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a1000
  1. David Pountney, London

    England’s secretary of state for health, Alan Johnson, has called for a national movement to tackle obesity.

    Speaking on Wednesday at centre-left policy institute the Fabian Society, Mr Johnson urged society, business, healthcare professionals, and local government to work together to tackle the problem.

    “We are calling on everyone, from the smallest community keep fit class to the biggest retailers in the land, to join in this campaign to change the way we live our lives,” said Mr Johnson. “The government must develop and implement a sustained response to a problem that will have profound and long term consequences for health and major costs to the health budget and wider economy.”

    David Haslam, a GP and clinical director of The National Obesity Forum, cautiously welcomed the health secretary’s comments. “Obesity is a horrendous problem in the UK,” he said. “Nothing that has been done to date has made any dent in the appalling statistics. A sensible, robust policy is needed, a strategy that is acted upon, and translated into appropriate action,” he said.

    “While the speech was a mixed bag, with a certain amount of political squabbling and gesturing, I was generally encouraged by the secretary of state’s comments. It shows that obesity is finally high up on the government’s agenda, which is reassuring. They finally seem open to help, advice, and collaboration, and that is the only way we are going to be able to effectively address this problem.”

    The announcement follows the publication last October of a report that examined how a sustainable response to obesity could be delivered over the next 40 years (BMJ 2007;335:789; doi: 10.1136/bmj.39371.567870.13). In response to the report Mr Johnson has met leaders from health charities, health professionals, and community action groups to discuss how best to form a national campaign to change habits and attitudes.

    But the health secretary was keen to emphasise that although he wanted to encourage people to be responsible for the way they lead their lives, the initiative was not intended to bully and criticise. “This is not a licence to hector and lecture people on how they should spend their lives, not least because this simply won’t work,” Mr Johnson said. “Tackling obesity requires a much broader partnership, not only with families but with employers, retailers, the leisure industry, the media, local government, and the voluntary sector. We need a national movement that will bring about a fundamental change in the way we live our lives.

    “In its infancy the NHS grappled with acute and infectious diseases that could be treated or vaccinated against. But the government cannot vaccinate against obesity any more than it can reverse the ageing process to relieve the burden on the NHS of demographic change,” said Mr Johnson. “The gravity of the obesity challenge demands that we grasp the true nature and complexity of its causes, and enable people to adapt their lifestyles in order to avoid the damage that obesity can cause.”


    Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a1000

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