Boris Johnson is set to launch a renewed anti-obesity strategy in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, amid concerns the disease affects overweight people more severely.
The prime minister is said to be privately convinced that his being overweight is one reason why he ended up in intensive care after contracting the virus.
He said to have told ministers “I’ve changed my mind on this”, according to a report in The Times newspaper.
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Early research suggests that being obese doubles the risk of needing hospital treatment for Covid-19.
Around one in three UK adults are clinically obese with a BMI over 30 – one of the highest in the Western world.
Last July, ahead of winning the Tory leadership, Mr Johnson pledged to review “sin taxes”, notably the sugar tax introduced by former chancellor George Osborne.
He was criticised by some health professionals, with NHS chief Simon Stevens warning that “poor diet is now a bigger health threat than smoking”.
Commenting on the apparent U-turn by the prime minister, former chancellor Mr Osborne said: “Good to see that the sugar tax I introduced in my 2016 Budget continues to win over those who opposed it”.
But the prime minister could face opposition within his own party to an interventionist approach to health – especially if it involves higher taxes. Tory MP David Davis said it was “good to see Boris taking obesity seriously now”.
But he added: “He had better be sure the science behind any policy is right. Quite a lot of evidence that all Western governments have based guidance on bad science for 50 years.”