Former food czar Henry Dimbleby says weight is a problem
Former food czar Henry Dimbleby fears Britain’s obesity crisis is now so bad that much of the population could end up taking pills. His warning comes as we still fail to control the epidemic.
Bans on buy one, get one free on unhealthy foods have been dropped, while plans to ban TV advertising of junk products before 2100 have been pushed back until October 2025.
Mr Dimbleby, 52, said: ‘We needed the TV advertising ban yesterday – it can’t wait for the next general election. To me, that should be as much of a priority for politicians as the things they keep talking about, like shutting down small boats and fighting inflation.
“If we don’t want to end up drugging the population, we have to crack before the next election. Do I think this will happen? No. I think we’ll end up doing drugs [much of] population.”
His grim warning comes as successive strategies to rein in ultra-processed food makers have been abandoned as health chiefs turn to drugs as an easier way to tackle the fat.
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Health chiefs turn to drugs to fight obesity
The Department of Health and Social Care has invested £20m of taxpayers’ money to test new ‘obesity treatments and technologies’. The weight-loss drug Semaglutide was recently approved by the drug rationing body NICE.
Mr Dimbleby and an expert panel of advisers were at the heart of the bid for systemic change, but ministers ignored all of their recommendations except calorie counts on restaurant menus. He let Britain drift into oblivion.
He said: “The government got it fundamentally wrong. He thinks it’s too politically difficult, but the focus groups say otherwise.
“Labour and Tories think it’s not popular in the red wall, it’s part of some kind of culture war and that by going after the purveyors of advertising and junk food they will lose votes – they won’t.
“As soon as I wrote the food strategy, I needed to shout at it. I felt like we had taken a step backwards on the health front. Boris Johnson wanted to act, but he was thrown into the l tall grass.
“The straw that broke the camel’s back for me was when [former Health Secretary] Sajid Javid was about to publish his white paper on health disparities, but Johnson quit and it fell apart. I had done enough to stop the bus heading for the cliff – I had to jump off the bus.
Dimbleby says government should focus on weight loss
“I served under five secretaries of state and four prime ministers. Problems like this require a strong, focused center. We had chaos at number 10, so I’m not surprised it didn’t move forward.
Most alarming of all, critics say, is the failure to stop junk food advertising aimed at children.
Pervasive availability has seen convenience become the norm. Few schools teach basic lifelong skills like sourcing produce and cooking fresh food from scratch, while the rise of app-based fast food deliveries has seen a much of the nation become inactive and dependent on others.
Our busy lives have seen supermarkets sell cheap, industrially produced treats to meet the needs of people on the go, juggling work and family commitments, while millions are bombarded daily with marketing offers for products rich in sugar. Mr Dimbleby says three immediate actions would help stem the tide, but has almost no hope of that happening.
He said: “A policy can only be created if we recognize the problem. It’s not just about will, it’s about changing the business incentives of companies that make 85% of processed foods that are too unhealthy to market to children.
“The second is to put advertising restrictions in place. And the third is to look at the cost of living for people in poverty and expand free school meals and healthy start initiatives. [which provide free and cut-priced fresh fruit and vegetables]. All three would have a huge effect.
28% of the population is overweight
“But here’s what I think will happen. It’s more likely than not that no one will find the courage to deal with this terrible food problem, so I think it’s likely that a third of the population could end up on appetite suppressant drugs. It buys us time, but the drugs are never quite what they seem. They will have all kinds of side effects and people will be scared.
“I think if you have a body mass over 35 and have struggled with obesity and diet-related illnesses, you should talk to your GP about semaglutide – it might help. But we don’t shouldn’t use it as a solution.
Terrifying statistics reveal how Britain fought – and lost – a battle against the Bulge. In 1950, only 1% of the population was obese. Today, the figure is 28%.
A father-of-three, Mr Dimbleby recoiled in horror when a friend offered his views on the impending crisis. They said, “It’s a depressing world and a lot of people end up taking antidepressants. What is the difference here?”.
He said: “I became vaguely aware of diabetes when I wrote the school food plan in 2013 and spoke to doctors.
“Things really shocked me when I was working on the National Food Strategy and talking to people with diabetes. It is a serious disease. A patient told me that he would die if he did not take medicine. They had gone from being alive to being kept alive by drugs.
The Book of Former Food Czar Henry Dimbleby Ravenous
“It’s invisible to a lot of people but completely ubiquitous. The thought is that if you have it, you’re lazy and possess no willpower.
“It is a disease that lives in the shadows. It’s not innocent like cancer.
“Andy Haldane, the former chief economist at the Bank of England, said the only thing holding us back from GDP growth was more sick people, and a lot of that was food-related.
“The NHS sucks money out of every other department because no one can be seen to let it go.
“What we will have are stagnant tax revenues and a stagnant economy as we become an increasingly sick and impoverished nation. And the government – whatever color it is – is going to deal with it. It’s frightening.”
Ravenous: How to Get Ourselves and Our Planet into Shape by Henry Dimbleby with Jemima Lewis is published by Profile books.
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