KEY POINTS

  • British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the United Kingdom needs to address the rising obesity rates, which are among the highest in Europe
  • He warned if rates continued to rise, it would prove "costly" for the National Health Service
  • Johnson cited changes he's made since being hospitalized for coronavirus as positive examples, including not ordering takeout and in-home workouts

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday took aim at the physical health of the United Kingdom, claiming obesity is on the rise. Johnson spoke about weight problems for the U.K. while discussing his short stay in April at an intensive care unit after contracting the coronavirus.

“I did lose some weight - that is perfectly true - as you do in [Intensive Care Unit],” Johnson said in an interview with Times Radio.

“I have taken a very libertarian stance on obesity but actually when you look at the numbers, when you look at the pressure on the [National Health Service], compare, I’m afraid this wonderful country of ours to other European countries, we are significantly fatter than most others, apart from the Maltese for some reason. It is an issue.”

The Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development, or OCED, found obesity to be a growing problem for the U.K. in a report published in 2017. It found obesity had risen 92% since the early 1990s, with 26.9% of the population considered obese in 2015.

A person with a body mass index measurement of 30 or above is considered obese.

Since then, health officials have warned the toll this could take on the healthcare system.

“Obesity is the new smoking, and it represents a slow-motion car crash in terms of avoidable illness and rising health care costs,” NHS Chief Executive Simon Stevens said at a 2015 Public Health Conference in Coventry, England. “If as a nation we keep piling on the pounds around the waistline, we'll be piling on the pounds in terms of future taxes needed just to keep the NHS afloat.”

Johnson is now echoing these warnings, saying the U.K. needs to take a more proactive approach. He pointed to his own routine while in lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic, saying he stopped ordering takeout and began working out more in his home.

“We certainly must have a care for the health of our population and we will be happier and fitter and more resistant to diseases like COVID if we can tackle obesity,” Johnson said. “It is hugely costly for the NHS.”

However, Johnson hesitated to answer when asked if he would support a sugar tax as a way of helping address obesity. He instead said it was a problem that will take “everybody” to resolve.

“I am not going to pretend I have original thinking about this nor am I going to pretend that it is easy for politicians to solve - everybody knows that this is a tough one,” Johnson said. “It’s something we all need to address.”

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowed that the government would not go back to the austerity measures of 10 years ago Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowed that the government would not go back to the austerity measures of 10 years ago Photo: 10 Downing Street / Andrew PARSONS