Across the pond in Great Briton, the country is struggling with many of the same concerns arising from the novel coronavirus pandemic as the United States and other nations. In addition to a crushing recession, their public healthcare system is under enormous pressure from all of the COVID-19 patients requiring care. (And if you know anything about Britain’s National Health Service, you know that it wasn’t all that robust to begin with.) With this in mind, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is outlining a plan to address this problem. He’s pointing out that obesity is too much of an issue for his countrymen and they’re going to have to start losing some weight so they don’t continue to burden the available healthcare resources. (Boston Globe)

Britain will crack down on junk food advertising and introduce calorie counts on menus in an effort to tackle obesity and ease the pressure on the country’s National Health Service amid the coronavirus pandemic, the government said Monday.

For the British prime minister, Boris Johnson, the intersection of obesity and the coronavirus is personal. Johnson was, by his own admission, “way overweight” when he was admitted to the hospital after becoming ill with COVID-19 this year, and his health deteriorated to such an extent that at one point he needed intensive care.

Studies have linked obesity to a greater risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19.

It sounds to me as if BoJo is internalizing his own bout with COVID-19 a bit too much here. While it’s true that the Brits have a growing obesity problem on par with America’s, the connection between that trend and the outcomes of COVID-19 infections seems a bit tenuous. Obviously, if you have any underlying health issues, you’re going to be more at risk from the novel coronavirus, and being overweight is clearly one of those factors. It can’t help to be overweight when fighting the virus. But there are plenty of other factors as well.

When Johnson was hospitalized he was definitely a bit on the heavy side, though I wouldn’t have called him obese. And he lost a lot of weight while in the hospital, so he now actually looks better than when he went in. But let’s accept for the moment that having fewer obese people is generally a good thing with or without a pandemic raging. How does Johnson propose to address this health crisis?

He’s calling for a ban on all television advertising for “any food high in fat, sugar, or salt” until 9 pm. That way, fewer children will be as likely to see the ads. He’s also considering a ban of online ads for junk food.

Proposals such as these are always problematic from the start. What will qualify as “junk food” for the purposes of these advertisements? Breakfast cereals with any sugar in them? Soda? How about fast-food restaurants? (Not much of their menus consist of anything you’d describe as being particularly healthy.)

The other problem is that he’s not talking about banning the actual foods in question. Only the advertising for them. Children, in particular, aren’t going to forget those foods exist just because the advertisements go away. They’ll still be pestering their parents to buy them. And children aren’t really the biggest part of this problem, by the way. Adult obesity is a far bigger issue, and adults tend to be less physically active than children, particularly if they have office/desk jobs.

It sounds like all BoJo is planning to do here is cut significantly into the BBC’s ad revenue stream while not producing much of an effect. And going out in public and calling all of your citizens a bunch of fatties probably isn’t going to do much for his popularity, either.