Monday 18 May 2020

Boris Johnson's war on obesity

Boris Johnson is reputed to be launching a war on obesity, both his and other people's, when this is all over. The Times covered this gossip on its front page last week, perhaps feeling vindicated for publishing so many anti-sugar editorials over the years.

More cynically, this looks like an attempt to shift the blame for the government's handling of COVID-19: "Don't blame us, blame the fatties." This doesn't stack up as an excuse, however, as I wrote in an article for the Spectator.

Leaving aside the total failure of every anti-obesity policy to date, let us consider the government’s political motivation for finding a scapegoat for Britain’s relatively high Covid death rate. How convenient it would be if people believed that South Korea handled the crisis better because of its low rate of obesity and not because of its contact tracing capability and widespread use of face masks.


If Britain had fewer obese people it would have more old people. If it had more old people, it would have more deaths from Covid-19. Italy’s relatively low rate of obesity may have contributed to it having an unusually large elderly population, but this did not prevent it from having an unusually high death rate from Covid-19. Quite the reverse. 

This is the lesson from health economics that refuses to be learned. We all have to die from something. If you avoid a ‘lifestyle-related’ disease, you will die from something else at a later date. Blame the obese if you must, but don’t fool yourself into believing that you would benefit personally if, by some miracle, Boris Johnson’s forthcoming interventions succeed.

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