MATT HANCOCK has vowed to get Britain in shape and lose its “fat man” of Europe tag.
The Health Secretary is launching a crusade to get the country eating LESS and moving MORE.
Daily exercise is being encouraged as part of an anti-obesity wake-up call.
The Better Health battle plan comes as evidence shows excess weight is linked to a higher risk of severe illness from Covid-19.
I joined Mr Hancock for a lunchtime jog to talk through the aims.
He had swapped his usual business suit for a navy blue tracksuit for our chat in St James’s Park, central London, close to the Department of Health and Social Care offices in Whitehall.
He even took up my challenge of doing some one-handed press-ups.
Britain is the second-fattest nation in Europe, after Malta, and Mr Hancock wants to see us drop down the table.
In a stark warning, he says: “One of the reasons we’ve had such a bad time of Covid is that we’re one of the fattest countries in Europe and we need to tackle that.
“The way to do that is supporting people and motivating people to do what’s right for them and what’s right by the NHS. It’s a call to action, a national effort that we need.
“I’ve thought for a long time that keeping people healthy is the best way to keep them out of hospital. Covid has doubled down on that.
“After your age and sex, the third biggest impact on whether you will die if you catch Covid is obesity.
“It’s the third-biggest impact on how hard it hits you.
“So I’ve long believed the NHS isn’t just about fixing people when they’re ill. It’s about helping people when they’re healthy.
“It’s the National Health Service, not the National Hospital Service. Tackling obesity is the No1 health issue after Covid.
“But it’s linked to Covid too as it shows how dangerous obesity is. This package is all about protecting themselves and protecting the NHS.”
Both Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Mr Hancock fell victim to coronavirus as they drew up the battle plan — with their decisions subject to a future inquiry.
The PM, who has just turned 56, has since reportedly told colleagues, “Do not be a fatty in your fifties” as he takes personal charge to defeat obesity and also acknowledging that his weight hampered him.
BoJo spent three nights in intensive care and has lost more than a stone, having previously hit 17st.
Mr Hancock, who helped beat the virus after getting fit during the election campaign, adds: “Obesity is one of the biggest long-term health challenges the country faces.
“Covid has shone a spotlight on ill health and Covid has shone a spotlight on the importance of tackling obesity. We have got the biggest package of support for tackling obesity in history.
“My experience of Covid is that I bounced back. But so many people didn’t. You just have to look at the figures to see the link.
“I got quite fit during the general election campaign and I lost some weight. I’m just so glad that I did, because it helped.”
As part of the drive, the TV industry faces restrictions on showing junk food ads before 9pm and there are plans to constrain such promotions online.
Supermarket buy-one-get-one-free deals also face new rules and calorie counts on restaurant and takeaway- chain menus will come into force.
Mr Hancock, who is often tempted by his daughter’s lemon meringue pie, is adamant the whole country has to show discipline on losing weight just like it obeyed lockdown measures.
He says: “There is a huge role for parents to look out for the health of their children. We want to support parents to do that.
“You wouldn’t give your child a cigarette. Parents have a responsibility that they eat healthily too.”
“Teachers have a big role to play as well in this national effort. I applaud the Daily Mile [for young children to jog or run for 15 minutes daily at school]and there are lots of ways to exercise.”
Offices and firms across the land are also being asked to buy into the new push.
He says: “For all employers, for companies and bosses, Covid has shown health impacts on the bottom line. It’s in bosses’ interests to help their employees stay fit.”
Doctors will also have a greater role to play in being more frank with patients if they are obese or overweight.
Patients will be referred to weight-loss services and told to head out walking and cycling as part of the new drive.
Diners will be able to benefit from Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Eat Out To Help Out from next Saturday.
Asked if an anti-obesity drive and starting the promotion is the best idea, Mr Hancock says, dryly: “Eat healthily to help out.”
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