Telegraph: Dire obesity statistics prove that to ‘protect the NHS’ we must avoid another lockdown at all costs

This article was first published in the Telegraph.

41 per cent of adults in England have put on weight since March 2020, with more than one in five gaining at least a stone. Under lockdown, our eating habits became out of control. That, if nothing else, ought to deter the government from resorting to a fresh lockdown later this year, given the pressure obesity puts on the NHS.

We are in the midst of not one, but two pandemics – Covid and obesity – which both have the potential to do serious, lasting damage to our civil liberties. The only viable long-term solution is to learn to live with both. Otherwise, we will end up playing whack-a-mole every time one of Chris Whitty’s graphs shows that we are putting on weight or spreading Covid, each swing of the hammer bringing a new wave of unimaginably harmful interventionist policies.

To begin with, trying to tackle public health issues from Whitehall by changing people’s behaviours makes the poor poorer. We can see this effect in obesity policy. Theresa May’s soft drinks sugar levy only exacerbated everyday difficulties for those living hand-to-mouth. Henry Dimbleby’s bonkers sugar and salt tax would add at least £3.4bn to our shopping bills each year.

In much the same way, lockdowns cause economic difficulties for those who can least afford it in various unforeseen ways, most recently through the so-called ‘pingdemic’ forcing low-paid workers to take weeks off work at a time after the slightest brush with a potential Covid carrier.

The negative effects of any further lockdown won’t stop with our wallets. The health risks are plain to see. Today’s new weight gain statistics show how it could make us fatter – if last year’s spring and summer lockdown saw bad eating habits skyrocket, a winter one would surely be much worse. The government, then, must be resilient in the face of scary Covid headlines in the coming months – but does it have the mettle?

How the government has dealt with the uptick in obesity in recent months gives us a sneak preview of how it may react in the event of a winter Covid surge. The omens are not good. From ‘junk food’ advertising bans to patronising schemes which track what we eat and how much physical activity we do and give us a gold star when we make ‘good decisions’, this government has erred time and again on the side of nanny statism, blind to the consequences.

We are slipping into a status quo where knee-jerk interventionism is the standard response to perceived public health concerns. Following the science isn’t all that fashionable these days but if ministers really want to do what’s best for the health of the nation, they should surely see the way lockdowns fuel obesity. In this case, protecting the NHS means avoiding a new lockdown at all costs.

And yet, the groundwork is already being laid for an unimaginably damaging autumn or winter lockdown. We were assured last year lockdown measures were a temporary, extraordinary, once-in-a-lifetime, last-resort option. We are now at risk of lockdowns and other gratuitous invasions of privacy and violations of basic freedoms becoming part and parcel of the government’s toolkit for dealing with what it believes to be public health emergencies.

We are on the road towards endless boomerang lockdowns and the long-term desecration of sacred British liberties in the name of public health. It’s not too late to turn back – but that will require the government becoming comfortable with the idea that its citizens are not always in perfect health – which, if it still values freedom and individual choice, it must do.