No10 adds fat-fighting quango to take over from Public Health England

No10 adds fat-fighting quango to take over from Public Health England

March 29, 2021

Number 10 unveils new fat-fighting quango – the Office for Health Promotion – to take over from axed PHE this autumn

  • Office for Health Promotion will tackle the root causes of serious illness
  • Boris Johnson heralded the agency as helping Britons to ‘lead healthy lives’
  • But the PM has written columns railing against the ‘creep’ of the nanny state

No10 today unveiled the fat-fighting quango that will take over from Public Health England when the ailing agency is finally disbanded.

The Office for Health Promotion is tasked with tackling the root causes of illness, stamping out obesity and smoking and improving mental health. 

Boris Johnson — once a vocal critic of nanny-state interventions — said the agency, which won’t be up and running until the autumn, will help Britons ‘lead healthy lives’. 

PHE is being dismantled over the next few months following widespread criticism of its handling of the Covid pandemic, which the Prime Minister described as ‘sluggish’ last year. 

Its disease prevention work is being passed to the UK Health Security Agency, which will prepare the nation for future disease outbreaks or biochemical attacks.

The UKSA will initially focus on fighting Covid, and bring the NHS Test and Trace and the Joint Biosecurity Centre under one roof.

Mountains of studies have shown people who are overweight or smoke are more at risk from a multitude of illnesses — including cancer, heart disease and Covid. 

The Office for Health Promotion is tasked with tackling the root causes of ill health, taking over from the branch of PHE best known for putting up posters telling Britons to count calories

Mr Johnson has lost ‘quite a lot of weight’ on a fitness kick triggered by his battle with Covid. He is pictured on a jog today in Westminster with Dilyn, who is chasing Egyptian Geese

What will it do?

The OHP will tackled the root causes of ill health, including obesity, smoking and poor mental health.

Boris Johnson said it will help Britons to ‘lead healthy lives’.

The agency will take over the arm of PHE that was responsible for public health campaigns – including putting up posters telling Britons to stop smoking.

When will it open?

Ministers say they plan to get the new centre up and running ‘this autumn’.

Who will run it?

Ministers have yet to decide on who will head up the agency. 

Whoever is appointed will report to chief medical officer Chris Whitty and Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

How will it be funded?

The OHP will be backed from the existing Public Health England budget.

Ministers are yet to say how much money has been put aside to run the new agency. 

Labour says the agency must be sufficiently funded to ensure it delivers on its promise.

Has there been any controversy?

The Prime Minister had railed against the ‘creep of the nanny state’ just months before the pandemic began, and has written columns berating overweight people as their weight being ‘their own fat fault’.

Announcing the new agency, Mr Johnson said: ‘The new Office for Health Promotion will be crucial in tackling the causes, not just the symptoms, of poor health and improving prevention of illnesses and disease.

‘Covid has demonstrated the importance of physical health in our ability to tackle such illnesses, and we must continue to help people to lead healthy lives so that we can all better prevent and fight illnesses.’

The Prime Minister famously admitted ‘I was too fat’ after the Covid scare which saw him taken into intensive care when he was hospitalised with the virus last April.

Since then, the 56-year-old – regularly pictured out running in London – said he has lost ‘quite a lot’ of weight by cutting down on carbs, chocolate and cheese, as well as exercising regularly.

Mr Johnson has since launched a Downing St drive to crack down on obesity, with measures expected to come into force including a ban on junk food adverts before 9pm and mandatory calorie labelling on restaurant menus.

This is despite previously saying being overweight was ‘their own fat fault’, and railing against state-led interventions barely months before the pandemic.

Chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty — who will manage the OHP alongside Health Secretary Matt Hancock — added it will work across the public sector.

‘Preventing ill health and supporting our communities to live healthy lives is very important,’ he said.

‘The non-direct harms of Covid on the public’s health will not be trivial. We need an evidence-informed and collaborative approach to health promotion to support this recovery.

‘The OHP will work across both national and local government as well as with the NHS, academia, the third sector, scientists, researchers and industry to develop evidence informed policies.’

The agency will take over from the branch of PHE best known for running poster campaigns telling Britons to monitor their calorie intake. 

The Department of Health, which will fund the agency, claimed about 80 per cent of illnesses are due to lifestyle factors such as diet, smoking and exercise.

They added that ill-health among working age adults costs around £100billion a year.

The boss of the new agency is yet to be recruited, but is expected to be a top expert with experience in fighting chronic diseases.

It comes after ministers announced deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries would lead the UKSA last week. 

Dr Harries has been advising the Government throughout the current pandemic and oversaw the UK’s response to the Russian novichok poisonings in 2018.

The UKSA, the final name for the National Institute of Health Protection, will also be fully up and running by the autumn.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the new office ‘must be backed up by proper investment’.

‘The Covid crisis has shone a light on the shocking inequalities that left us vulnerable and lacking resilience when the pandemic hit,” the Labour MP added.

‘Years of Conservative governments mean advances in life expectancy had stalled and even gone backwards for some of the poorest in this country even before the pandemic.

‘The disproportionate impact of this virus on both the worst off and black, Asian and ethnic minority communities must also be a wake-up call.’

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