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Battle of the Bulge: UK plans ‘Fit Miles’ incentive scheme to fight obesity

Battle of the Bulge: UK plans ‘Fit Miles’ incentive scheme to fight obesity
Courtesy: eksan Mongkhonkhamsao | Moment via Getty Images

The UK government is pumping in £100 million for projects to combat the nation’s obesity crisis, including the appointment of a prominent entrepreneur to lead a new “Fit Miles” incentives strategy.

Sir Keith Mills, founder of the Air Miles loyalty programme, has been appointed to advise on the new reward approach to encourage healthy behaviours.

Sir Keith will support the government to develop the innovative “Fit Miles” approach with public and private partners. This will draw on best practice from around the world, such as the national step challenge in Singapore, a nationwide physical activity programme aimed at encouraging Singaporeans to do more physical activity as part of their daily lives with financial incentives.

Extra help

As part of the new fund injection, over £70 million will be invested into weight management services – made available through the National Health Service (NHS) and local councils – enabling up to 700,000 adults to have access to support that can help them to lose weight – from access to digital apps, weight management groups or individual coaches, to specialist clinical support. The remaining £30 million will fund initiatives to help people maintain a healthy weight, including access to the free NHS 12-week weight loss plan app as part of an ongoing government Better Health campaign.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “This funding will give extra support to people across the country who want to lose weight too.

“Losing weight is hard, but making small changes can make a big difference. Being overweight increases the risk of becoming ill with Covid. If we all do our bit, we can reduce our own health risks – but also help take pressure off the NHS.”

Routine care

Part of the funding pot will also go towards upskilling healthcare professionals to support those in early years and childhood with intervention and enhanced training packages, helping up to 6,000 children and families to lead healthy lives. The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said that evidence suggests weight management services can help people to adopt healthier behaviours, lose weight and improve their general wellbeing. Therefore, the new funding will support GPs and other health professionals to help make weight management an integral part of routine care. It will encourage clinicians to have conversations about weight with their patients and enable them to refer patients to new services.

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “Helping people to achieve or maintain a healthier weight is complex and can be a very hard task. We want to make it easier for people to lose weight, which is why our funding set out today ensures those across all ages have the right level of support and tools they need to make healthier lifestyle choices.

“These measures will allow us to work with local authorities and optimise different areas of our healthcare services to encourage healthy behaviours for all. The urgency of tackling obesity has been brought to the fore by evidence of the link to an increased risk from Covid-19, so it’s vital we take action on obesity to protect the NHS and improve our nation’s health.”

Cutting down risks

According to DHSC data, obesity is one of the biggest health crises the UK faces. Almost two-thirds (63 per cent) of adults in England are overweight or living with obesity – and 1 in 3 children leave primary school overweight or obese, with obesity-related illnesses costing the NHS £6 billion a year.

The DHSC said its plans announced this week will prioritise helping those who need the most support to achieve a healthier lifestyle, including people living in some of the most deprived areas of the country, because it is now established fact that living with excess weight puts people at greater risk of serious illness or death from Covid-19, with risk growing substantially as body mass index (BMI) increases.

Obesity is associated with higher risks of type 2 diabetes, heart attacks, strokes, many of the common cancers and is now linked with more severe Covid-19 outcomes, so there does indeed need to be wider action to support people to lose weight,” said Professor Jonathan Valabhji, National Clinical Director for Diabetes and Obesity.

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