BORIS Johnson and Matt Hancock have declared a new war on obesity with their Better Health campaign.

Cue annoying “get on yer bike” slogans, oversimplified rhetoric and frivolous statements on being five pounds lighter together etc, etc.

Cue putting the onus back on to individuals to resist chocolate, “stay alert” to Pringles and get off the sofa rather than any real structured and well rounded response to the highly complex set of factors that cause obesity.

Where to start? This Better Health campaign seems kind of ironic given that just a few weeks ago, Rishi Sunak was telling us all to eat out to get the economy kick-started and offering discounts on restaurants such as McDonald’s and Burger King – perhaps the discount was only meant to be for the salad on the side.

This muddled messaging is very familiar from a government that’s reactive rather than proactive, courting headlines to distract the nation from their lack of substance. They are all bun and no burger!

This UK Government does not really give a stuff about the country stuffing ourselves. We’ve just lost more than 45,000 people in the UK to Covid-19. When Johnny-Come-Lately-Johnson finally announced lockdown back on March 23, countless people were already well on the road to illness. Johnson has promised that his new obesity drive won’t be “bossy or nannying” but his previous preoccupation with personal licence was one of the reasons he didn’t force lockdown early enough. Pre-Covid Johnson thought that personal liberty was about going on pub crawls or to the Cheltenham Festival.

Hindsight is a great thing, but the WHO gave plenty of foresight with their health advice; we knew what was coming and yet Johnson sat on his hands. Although there is evidence aplenty on obesity and comorbid conditions, what we didn’t know was how much obesity would be a factor in how patients with coronavirus could handle this terrible illness and how they would recover if at all.

This new health campaign is a way of addressing the nation’s weight problem in order to reduce the strain on the NHS when the near inevitable second wave comes calling this winter. Hancock has announced that “if everyone who is overweight lost five pounds, it could save the NHS over £100 million over the next five years”. Sounds good but this is a government which dithered and delayed when faced with a pandemic. Are these the people with the credibility to offer lifestyle advice?

To make matters more divorced from reality, Number 10 have had the genius idea of putting Johnson at the heart of their new campaign, our post-Covid PM, our diet and exercise conscious leader – hey, if it hasn’t happened to Boris, it hasn’t happened to any of us. Born again Boris – the slimline tonic of the nation.

Of course, putting Johnson who is not a fan of so-called “sin taxes” at the centre of the fightback against obesity is an oxymoron, like bitter sweet, military intelligence or compassionate Conservative. It’s the same with the nuts and bolts

of their campaign ideas. New measures like bans on junk food advertising and two-for-one offers on crisps, chocolate and sweets won’t fill the void unless backed by substantial analysis.

It’s wider issues such as being over-reliant on ready meals due to long working hours not being conducive to cooking from scratch, car-dependence and, of course, a large range of deep-rooted health inequalities that need tackled, not just the easily digestible headline-grabbing moves.

Like Voldemort, austerity cannot be named when it comes to this Government examining why people who have been plunged into poverty by their draconian flagship Tory policy rely on cheap, nutritious-lite junk food and buy-one-get-one-free offers to feed their families. No amount of bike to work incentives or walk to school initiatives are going to do anything other than chocolate coat this deep-rooted problem.

Professor Harry Rutter took to Twitter on Sunday night to explain why this campaign was well overdue. In an enlightening thread he discusses the UK Government’s report Foresight – Tackling Obesity: Future Choices, pointing out that “people in the UK today don’t have less willpower and are not more gluttonous than previous generations. Nor is their biology significantly different to that of their forefathers. Society, however, has radically altered over the past five decades, with major changes in work patterns, transport, food production and food sales”. He discusses the “obesogenic environment” where no matter how physically active you are, or how healthily you eat, there are ever-increasing barriers to maintaining a good weight, with the most disadvantaged people facing the greatest obstacles.

Rutter points out that responses to this problem always seem to take the personal intervention route despite evidence that shows this is generally ineffective and further widens inequalities. Obesity is not just a mere failure of individual willpower. Real “foresight” shows that “the causes of obesity are embedded in an extremely complex biological system, set within an equally complex societal framework”. Only a long-term plan that robustly ties these wide-ranging factors together and fights back against vested interests and structural inequalities can be effective.

Unfortunately, complex, long-term and meaningful are not words you associate with Boris Johnson and his cabinet of tumshies. Nor is equality. The Better Health campaign is just a sticking plaster and the Government is making sure that the buck stops with you.

Johnson’s waistline may be shrinking but under his watch the UK’s health issues are growing wider and more dangerous by the day.