Digesting Obesity: Another Tale of the Government’s Mixed Messages

As the number of days spent in quarantine increased, for many of us, the number on the scale did too. Trapped in our homes, flats or even just bedrooms, we spent several weeks gorging away the loneliness with snacks from our latest socially distanced shopping spree. For several weeks, our only glimpse of the outside world was our daily walk. Kept hidden from the judging looks of colleagues or classmates, it is no wonder that pandemic made us pile on the pounds.

Despite the growing concerns about obesity, and new government initiatives to help people return to a healthy weight, on the 3rd of August, the nation was called to rise from our sofas and charge into the COVID-infested streets to help the fight against our failing economy – by eating. Was it not obvious to Rishi Sunak and leaders of the Conservative party that the half-a-billion-pound ‘Eat-Out to Help-Out’ scheme undermines the obesity initiative? Or, in fact, is this yet another example of the government prioritising wealth over health?


‘Fat Families’ presenter Steve Miller criticized the government for spending £552 million of the taxpayer’s money to promote eating ‘junk food’, particularly in the current climate, when the consequences of an unhealthy diet are so severe. He noted that the government had the opportunity to support their anti-obesity initiative by only discounting healthier options or by adding nutritious meals to restaurant menus – allowing the hospitality industry an opportunity to protect their businesses and ensuring that they, the government, are staying consistent in the messages they convey. Miller believes that the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme was encouraging the public to “eat to their grave”; he reminded ‘This Morning’ viewers in an interview that just a week prior to announcing the scheme, the government had been considering banning the advertisement of junk food after the water-shed. Considering that the chance of death is three times more likely and you are seven times more likely to be put on a ventilator, Rishi Sunak’s strategy to help the economy is at the expense of our health…

Image Credit: Manchester Evening News / PA

So, did the scheme work? At the end of August restaurant reservations had increased by 216% in comparison to August 2019, according to Open Table, an online-booking provider. In the final week of the scheme, the number of seated diners were 95% higher than the year prior; Sunak even quoted that bookings from Monday – Wednesday had experienced a rise of 53% (also in comparison to 2019).

Though the scheme was successful in protecting 2 million jobs and providing the hospitality industry with the desperate boost they needed, it was also successful – or at least contributed towards – the rise in positive Covid cases reported in early September. Crowded seating areas, limited social distancing in queues, and waiters forced to work without adequate PPE are all major factors in increasing the risk of transmission and have been instrumental in creating the second spike we are currently experiencing. It is understandable that the government had to resort to novel ideas to encourage the public back outside and to support the hospitality industry, but with around 65% of UK adults being overweight or obese, one thing the scheme did not ‘help-out’ was our waistline.

Header Image Credit: Stefan Rousseau / The Sun