Dear Boris... Our Thoughts on the "Better Health" CampaignSep 10, 2021
We recently penned a letter to Boris because we wanted to highlight our thoughts and concerns regarding the introduction of the new national ‘Better Health’ weight loss campaign.
As outlined by Public Health England, the £100 million ‘Better Health’ campaign aims to encourage millions of adults to “kick start their health and reduce their risk of serious illness, including COVID-19” by losing weight.
The weight management campaign – unveiled as part of the government’s new ob*sity strategy – “encourages adults to introduce changes that will help them work towards a
healthier weight and learn skills to prevent weight gain by providing a suite of free tools and weight loss apps (that ask you to count calories, record what your entire daily food intake, your waist measurements and your work outs too).
We first heard news of this initiative when Boris introduced the campaign via his Instagram stories on the 4th of March. Whilst casually walking through the House of Commons, he advised his 1.3 million following that they should, like him, get up at 5am and cut out carbs and chocolate in order to shed weight – doing so (he suggests) will reduce the risk of serious infections, such as COVID-19. According to Boris, he was ‘too fat’ when he contracted COVID-19 last year and that his weight was the main contributor in slowing down his recovery.
You are probably not too surprised that this ‘health’ campaign promotes weight loss as the be all and end all in achieving ‘better health’ and that it is also comes as no surprise that dieting is therefore the number one suggested tool to use to achieve ‘better health’ and end the war on ob*sity.
Conveniently, Public Health England have partnered with the huge profitable key players in the dieting industry and is now advertising their products and services on their behalf. This means that if you are overweight and you attend your GP (for any reason), it is likely that you may be prescribed a diet through their partnered organisations who are offering free or discounted membership such as Weight Watchers, Slimming World and Get Slim. Noom even features as a recommended service (a company that promotes weight loss through restriction and hyper-vigilance around food but swears it’s not a diet – take it from us, it’s a diet). All these partnerships and constant peddling of the ‘lose weight’ message equate to big monetary gains and contribute to the annual $189 billion global weight loss money pot.
The £100 million ‘Better Health’ campaign is aimed to target 700,000 UK adults – that’s a lot of people considering right now it is estimated that there are currently 900,000 Slimming World members in the UK alone. How much more money is going to be spent and how many more people need to join or re-join these schemes (remember that the business model of weight loss organisations is based on recidivism) until the powers that be realise that diets don’t work, that they actually cause physical and psychological harm, and that fat does not mean unhealthy!?
Essentially, when the ‘Better Health’ campaign says: ‘get healthy’ it’s really saying: ‘get thin’. These kind of public health campaigns are not only harmful to the people who are fear mongered into disordered eating (dieting) but also firmly perpetuates the presence of fat phobia. This campaign set out by Public health England and endorsed by the UK government, is a prime example of the powerful systems of oppression at play that dictate body politics, increase the prevalence of body image dissatisfaction and places the responsibility for health solely on the individual.
Here’s a copy of the email we sent to Boris; we will let you know if we get a response!
We are writing to you following on from the introduction of the Better Health campaign that you introduced on Thursday 4th March.
As a service who works with individuals with eating disorders and body image dissatisfaction, we are extremely concerned of the harm that will be caused by the introduction of this £100 million weight management campaign.
We have access to a large amount of scientific data that highlights the metabolic, cardiovascular and psychological harm that dieting causes. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate out of all psychiatric disorders and dieting is repeatedly shown as the number one consistent variable in the onset of eating disorders. Your weight management campaign that is aimed to target up to 700,000 adults in the UK is therefore going to place a large number of people at high risk of developing eating disorders.
According to PwC it is estimated that eating disorder treatment costs the UK economy £15 billion annually. This cost in conjunction with your £100 million weight management campaign is money that could be better spent on catering for the deficits found in the social determinants of health, providing, for example, better access to health care, education and living conditions – particularly for the poorest residents in the UK.
Continuing to use a weight centric initiative places all the responsibility on the individual. We know that health is much more complex than weight alone and that your hyper-vigilance on weight loss through the disordered eating process of dieting is counterproductive as we know that an individual’s weight is largely determined by genetics.
You are also specifically targeting people who are (according to their BMI) overweight. This seems particularly concerning especially when we have access to large scale robust scientific studies that highlight the significant positive associations between higher weight and increased life expectancy. For example, an analysis of 3.6 million UK GP records found that individuals in the overweight category lived longer than those in the normal weight category (Bhaskaran et al, 2018). Similarly, a scientific study carried out on 1.8 million Norwegians (Waaler, 1984) indicated the same findings (being overweight prolongs life expectancy). There are many more scientific studies that highlight similar results, and we are happy to share these with you.
This new initiative of yours promotes weight stigma from childhood (your plan suggests that you intend to ‘upskill’ early year practitioners to weigh children in schools) into adulthood. Living in a fatphobic society causes psychological and physical harm and we will be needed to continue to provide support and damage limitation that campaigns such as ‘Better Health’ cause. Individuals require support in repairing their relationship with food and their bodies by having equal access to weight inclusive frameworks such as Intuitive Eating and Health At Every Size (HAES).
As an eating disorder support team, we have witnessed first-hand the detrimental and, sadly at times fatal, impact that the pursuit of weight loss has on individuals physiological and physical health. Please stop placing emphasis on weight. Diets simply don’t work, if they did then the diet you publicly went on last year following your diagnosis and hospitalisation of COVID-19 would have worked by now and you wouldn’t still be ‘restricting chocolate’ and ‘cutting carbs’ (as you shared with us on your Instagram story on 4th March 2021).
We need to move towards a more weight inclusive society that provides transparency on
the scientific literature that highlights the harm dieting and body shaming causes.
We have recently launched an online course that highlights the prevalence of body image
dissatisfaction, the harm that dieting and weight stigma causes and the systems of power
that perpetuate these issues further. Please let us know if you would like us to send you the link to access the course.
There are a huge number of professionals within the field of eating disorders that share our anti-diet stance. If you would like more information, then we would be happy to discuss this further.
With Best Wishes,
Dr Sara Dowsett and Rebekah Osprey-Ellis
The Intuitive Psychology Academy