The Government’s obesity strategy risks missing an important opportunity to acknowledge and address the psychological, social and economic stresses and struggles that make it difficult for people to manage a healthy weight, Centre for Mental Health chief executive Sarah Hughes said today.

Responding to the publication of the Government strategy, Tackling obesity, Sarah Hughes said: “For very many people, difficulties managing a healthy weight are intimately connected to their mental health. Poverty, stress, worry and fear are all major causes of physical ill health. Any strategy that relies on people making ‘choices’ when for so many people those choices don’t exist is unlikely to succeed. And focusing on food and physical activity without addressing the reasons people struggle with them risks making the inequalities we already see worse still.

“The strategy acknowledges that people from the most deprived and marginalised areas and communities are at greatest risk of becoming overweight. It puts forward some important steps that could help to address the environmental risks people face, for example in shops and advertising. But on its own it will not make a difference unless equal attention is paid to what puts people at risk in the first place and what makes it so difficult for adults and children alike to maintain a healthy weight.

“For too long, successive governments have relied on ineffective approaches to addressing this issue. Strategies that are premised on weight being about ‘choices’ or ‘lifestyles’ which can be shifted through advertising campaigns and exhortations to change behaviour risk entrenching the very inequalities and injustices that lie beneath the problems they are trying to address. We must move beyond shaming and blaming to create a society that helps all of us to live healthily, both physically and mentally.

“We are also very concerned that some of the proposals in the strategy could severely affect people with eating disorders. Eating disorders are serious illnesses and the Government must ensure that every step it takes to address obesity does not cause harm to people living with and recovering from them.”

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