What is the 12-week government obesity plan 2020 and how will it affect you and your family? 

The 12 week government obesity plan 2020 aims to get the nation fit and healthy again to better protect them against coronavirus.

The government’s new obesity plan, as revealed by Boris Johnson on July 27, aims to get the nation fit and healthy again to better protect them against coronavirus. 

Earlier this week, the Department of Health and Social Care published all the details of the 12 week government obesity plan 2020, which is set to include calories displayed on restaurant menus and an end to ‘buy one get one free’ supermarket deals on food high in salt or sugar. 

Alongside this, they have launched the ‘Better Health’ campaign, which involves a new NHS weight loss plan ‘to help you start healthier eating habits, be more active and start losing weight.’ 

According to the government, these new plans are being put into place this year to help tackle obesity, which they say is one of the country’s biggest health crises, as two out of three UK adults in the UK are overweight or living with obesity and one in three children leave primary school overweight.

The plans have come to the top of the government’s agenda recently as research revealed a link between obesity and a greater risk of serious illness or death from coronavirus, with the risk to health growing substantially as body mass index (BMI) increases. 

This is everything you need to know about the 12-week government obesity plan for 2020 and how it will affect you, from dining out in restaurants to eating within your own home. 

What is the 12-week government obesity plan 2020?

The "Better Health" campaign is a 12 week weight loss plan based around an app that helps users to set weight loss goals, plan meals, make healthier food choices, to get more active and to more burn calories.

While the government's plans for dining out, supermarkets and eating at home revolve around new laws 'to help people take control of their own future by losing weight, getting active and adopting a healthier lifestyle.'

The government obesity plan when eating out

Calorie labelling on food menus 

Two people look at a menu in a pub - 12 week government obesity plan 2020

Credit: Getty

The main way that the new plans will affect diners is when they go to take a look at a menu in a restaurant, cafe or takeaway, as new laws will require businesses with more than 250 employees to add calorie labels to the menus. 

This move comes as research shows that eating out in restaurants is becoming more common, with 69 per cent of people dining out in 2010 compared to 79 per cent in the past week. 

By introducing calorie labels, the government hopes that it will encourage the UK to make healthier choices when it comes to choosing what to eat. They say that there is a lack of information about the calorie content of some dishes, with research suggesting that people eat around 200 more calories per day if they eat out compared to making meals at home. 

However, the government has been criticised for bringing in these rules in advance of their ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ discount scheme. Coming into place in August, the scheme was created to encourage people to eat out at restaurants more and help reboot the hospitality industry. 

Calorie labelling on alcohol 

Alongside this, there are plans to introduce calorie labelling on alcohol before the end of the year. This is because, according to the NHS, nearly 10 per cent of our calorie intake of those who drink comes from alcohol and the majority of the public are not aware of the calorie content in alcoholic drinks. 

The government hopes therefore that by labelling alcohol drinks with calorie information, there will be a reduction in drinking and this will improve people’s general health as well as their weight. 

The government obesity plan when at the supermarket

Nutritional labelling on the front of food packets 

The government has said they will launch a consultation to collect views and evidence on the current ‘traffic light’ labelling system of food labelling currently in place. 

The system, which labels the nutritional information on food packets with a red, orange or green colour depending on the fat, sugar and salt content, is 'popular' and according to the government, research shows that people who consider the label before buying have healthier shopping baskets as a result. 

Ending BOGOF (buy one get one free) promotions 

couple picking out food at the supermarket - 12 week government obesity plan 2020

Credit: Getty

The government also intends to introduce new legislation which will ‘restrict the promotion of foods high in fat, sugar, such as ‘buy one get one free’ offers. 

They say that there will also be a ban on these food items being placed in locations such as checkouts and entrances of stores where they are more prominent and online. 

According to government sources, the UK spends more buying food products on promotion than any other European country and a survey from 2018 shows that just over 40 per cent of all food and drink products in prominent store areas were sugary foods and drinks, in comparison to just one per cent for healthier food items. 

By doing this, it’s hoped that people will be encouraged to make healthier choices and supermarkets will offer more discounts on fruit and vegetables. 

The government obesity plan at home

Banning unhealthy food adverts 

Adverts promoting food that’s high in fat, sugar or salt on television and online will be banned before 9pm, when most children are likely to see them. 

The government also says that they will hold a new consultation of whether the ban of these types of adverts should apply at all times of the day. 

This move is in response to analysis published by Cancer Research UK last year which shows that almost half of all food adverts shown on major channels like ITV1, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Sky1 were products high in fat, sugar and salt. This number rises to almost 60 per cent of adverts during the 6pm to 9pm slot, which the government says is the peak viewing time for children. 

The government puts forward evidence supported by the World Health Organisation (WHO) showing that exposure to these types of adverts can affect what children eat, in both the long term and short term by shaping their eating preferences at a young age. 

Weight loss apps and prescriptions for cycling 

Credit: Getty

The government has also promised to expand NHS weight management services so more people can get support for weight loss. 

This will include:

  • Self care apps and online tools for people with obesity.
  • Accelerating the NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme.
  • Doctors will be offered incentives to ensure people with obesity are given support for weight loss.
  • Prime care staff, such as GPs will be given the opportunity to become ‘healthy weight coaches’ and receive training through the Public Health Service. 

GPs are also going to be advised to prescribe exercise and more social activities, outside of the 12 week government obesity plan 2020 set out above, to help people keep fit. 

How will the government's plan affect you?

While many have applauded the government's plan to tackle obesity in this way, others have pointed out some of the problems with the new plans and the campaign.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that losing weight can be hard, so the government is 'taking bold action to help everyone who needs it.'

He followed this by saying, 'When you’re shopping for your family or out with friends, it’s only fair that you are given the right information about the food you’re eating to help people to make good decisions.

'To help support people we need to reduce unhelpful influences like promotions and adverts that affect what you buy and what you eat. Taken together, supported by an inspiring campaign and new smart tools, will get the country eating healthily and losing the pounds.

'We know obesity increases the risk of serious illness and death from coronavirus - so it’s vital we take action on obesity to protect the NHS and improve our nation’s health.'

Matt Hancock's praise of the new plans and campaigns was mirrored by Public Health England’s chief nutritionist, Dr Alison Tedstone, who called them “ambitious and rightly so”. 

She said, “Tackling obesity will help prevent serious illness and save lives. These bold measures will help us tip the scales on obesity. The argument for action is the clearest it’s ever been.” 

However, other medical professionals have warned about some of the negative side effects that the plans could have. As award-winning dietitian and founder of City Dietitians, Sophie Medlin says, it’s promising to see the government tackling predatory food advertising labels but some of the language used around the campaign could cause more harm than good. 

“In the reporting and messaging around The Obesity Strategy, it is key to remember that many people feel stigmatised by and attacked when we speak about ‘clamping down’ on obesity or ‘waging war’.

"This sort of language can make people who struggle with their weight feel threatened. It is essential that any strategy offers support to individuals rather than just piling on pressure that was already felt. We need to have adequate systems in place to ensure that every person who is ready to take steps towards weight loss has access to appropriate lifestyle guidance and that the public are not left to navigate all of the dangerous fad diets we see online.”

Eating disorder charity, Beat also suggests that the new government regulations could have a substantially negative impact on the 1.5 million people living with an eating disorder in the UK. The charity's Chief Executive Andrew Radford explains, ‘We recognise the importance of addressing obesity, but the risks of stigmatising and poorly-considered campaigns on those affected by eating disorders must be taken into account.

‘In particular, we are concerned that the campaign will encourage people with eating disorders to use the promoted weight loss app, which fails to prevent under 18s or people with normal or low-weight from using it, despite it not being suitable for them. Without suitable safeguards, what could be useful in helping people with obesity risks harming people with eating disorders.'

Others have criticised the use of the BMI calculator as a method for losing weight, as it's considered outdated in some medical situations since it doesn't take muscle mass into account.

Grace Walsh
Features Writer

Grace Walsh is a health and wellbeing writer, working across the subjects of family, relationships, and LGBT topics, as well as sleep and mental health. A digital journalist with over six years  experience as a writer and editor for UK publications, Grace is currently Health Editor for womanandhome.com and has also worked with Cosmopolitan, Red, The i Paper, GoodtoKnow, and more. After graduating from the University of Warwick, she started her career writing about the complexities of sex and relationships, before combining personal hobbies with professional and writing about fitness.