Coronavirus must prompt urgent action on adult obesity
Obesity levels are rising across all age groups, with the greatest increase seen in over 75s.
Ageing Better welcomes proposals to ban junk food TV advertising before 9pm as well as total advertising restrictions online, and we're calling for further action across all age groups – including older adults – to improve the health of the nation.
The impact of COVID-19 on adults who are overweight and obese must act as a wake-up call for Government and prompt action to tackle obesity across all age groups, including older adults, says the Centre for Ageing Better.
Figures show that more than 80% of men and 66% of women aged 55-64 have a weight classed as overweight or obese, and the number of people who are classed as overweight or obese has increased in every age group over the last 30 years. The largest increase since 1993 (from 58% to 71%) was among people aged 75 and over.
Obesity has been identified as a significant risk factor for more severe forms of COVID-19, as well as for many conditions which contribute to disability in later life such as type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke and some types of cancer. In recent years the number of people with long-term conditions linked to obesity has risen.
The data also shows a significant correlation with level of wealth, with almost half of the poorest people in England classed as overweight or obese, compared to just a fifth of the wealthiest. With figures from early in the pandemic showing death rates from coronavirus twice as high for the poorest as for the richest, it is clear that these health inequalities have serious consequences.
Obesity is one of the top risk factors for poor health and disability in later life, and Ageing Better says COVID-19 has thrown a spotlight on its link to healthy ageing. The government is currently consulting on proposals for a total ban on junk food TV adverts before 9pm as well as total advertising restrictions online.
Ageing Better says moves to tackle obesity must begin in childhood but extend across the life course and include policies to reduce obesity amongst adults. They are calling for a whole systems approach that includes reformulating foods to take out sugar, salt and fat, as well as tougher legislation on food labelling and advertising. It also requires more support for people to stay active, for example with further investment in walking and cycling – with a particular focus on those from the poorest backgrounds. They are also calling for locally-commissioned Tier 2 weight management services to support individuals with the greatest need.
Anna Dixon, Chief Executive at the Centre for Ageing Better, said:
“Obesity has risen at all ages over recent decades – with levels highest among older adults. It’s never been more urgent for government to do more to support people to achieve a healthy weight at every stage of their lives.
“We have known for a long time that obesity plays a big role in determining whether someone spends their mid to later life living with a long-term health condition or disability. The pandemic has thrown a spotlight on the deadly combination of age, obesity and COVID-19.
“The Prime Minister has pledged to tackle the issue, and moves to tackle obesity in childhood, including banning junk food adverts, both TV and online, are essential. Earlier this year the Prime Minister himself pledged a range of action - but we need more than warm words.”