Eating disorder campaigners say they are ‘deeply concerned’ by a proposed government scheme that will reward people for losing weight.
Tom Quinn, director of external affairs at eating disorder charity Beat, said the £100m-programme, which includes a proposed ‘fit miles’ scheme that will use incentives and rewards to encourage people to ‘eat better and move more’, is dangerous to people who are at risk of developing eating disorders.
The charity is also calling for a portion of the funding, which health bosses say will be invested in weight management services, to be targetted towards support services for people with binge eating disorder.
Mr Quinn said: ‘It is deeply concerning that the government is proposing a scheme rewarding people for losing weight
‘We recognise the importance of addressing obesity, however, a campaign which focuses on a calorie reward system is dangerous to people vulnerable to eating disorders.
‘People with binge eating disorder commonly live with obesity, and studies have shown that up to 30% of people seeking weight management services would meet the diagnostic criteria for binge eating disorder
‘Referring people affected by binge eating disorder to a weight loss programme, without first addressing their binge eating, misunderstands the psychological needs of the individual. It is likely to cause additional distress but is unlikely to result in sustained positive health outcomes.
‘We know that only one in four people who have had binge eating disorder ever receives treatment.
‘A portion of the £70m that will be invested into weight management services must be invested in evidence-based support for people living with binge eating disorder.
‘The support offered as part of weight management programmes must also be holistic, and recognise the importance of psychological support for those living with obesity.’
A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said £70m will be invested into weight management services which will enable up to 700,000 adults to access weight loss support, including digital apps, weight management groups or individual coaches and specialist clinical support.
Health bosses said the remaining £30m will fund initiatives to help people maintain a healthy weight, including access to the free NHS 12-week weight loss plan app and continuing the successful Better Health marketing campaign to motivate people to make healthier choices.
Part of the 30m funding will also go towards upskilling healthcare professionals to support those in early years and childhood with intervention and enhanced training packages, helping up to 6,000 children and families to lead healthy lives.
Sir Keith Mills, who has pioneered reward programmes through Airmiles and Nectar points, has been appointed to advise on developing a new ‘fit miles’ approach that will use incentives and rewards to support people to eat better and move more.
Prime minister Boris Johnson said: ‘Losing weight is hard, but making small changes can make a big difference.
‘Being overweight increases the risk of becoming ill with Covid. If we all do our bit, we can reduce our own health risks, but also help take the pressure off the NHS.
‘This funding will give extra support to people across the country who want to lose weight too.’
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