I lost more than a stone ...so what’s stopping the work-shy?



dmg media (UK)



JuST over a year ago, following a routine set of blood tests, I received a phone call I had never expected. ‘You are pre-diabetic,’ my Gp stated bluntly. ‘You are at the top end of the upper limit and if you don’t do something about it now, it’s going to get a lot worse.’ I was 65, working all hours as culture Secretary, and existing on a shocking diet as a result. Breakfast, lunch and dinner on five or more days a week was eaten on the go from fast-food outlets or canteens. I couldn’t get my doctor off the phone quickly enough, but he wasn’t going anywhere. ‘You have to lose at least a stone, change your diet, exercise more, stop drinking and decide how long you want to live,’ he told me. My only saving grace was that I wasn’t a smoker. It was a reality check — a lifestyle reckoning — that I needed but didn’t want to hear. I’m not alone. Figures show that nearly 500,000 people in the uK are out of work with health problems because they eat rubbish, drink too much, move too little and too many of them still smoke. Together, they are costing the economy a staggering £31 billion. In Britain, two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese — and may suffer associated complications from joint problems to cancer — while there are almost a million alcohol-related hospital admissions a year and more than half a million due to tobacco. Like me — a former nurse — I’d argue that few of those ‘victims’ can plead ignorance. We’re awash with public health initiatives, while TV, radio, newspapers and magazines constantly promote ways to live more healthily. I’m also sure that along the way someone — a healthcare professional — will have had the same conversation with them that my Gp had with me. But choosing to live well isn’t easy in the rush of modern living, when we’re being bombarded by junk- food advertising and a takeaway can be summoned with just a tap on an app. The profiteers in all of this are, of course, the food manufacturers and the alcohol and tobacco companies, and they’ll use every opportunity to counter or distort the healthy advice out there. They are laughing all the way to the bank and, for the most part, we let them. Things must change, and quickly. When I was a health minister, Boris Johnson launched a national obesity strategy. It was a difficult issue for the conservative party which is loath to tell people what to do, preferring instead to provide the information people need to make informed choices. Sadly, ministers postponed introducing the proposed measures — including a restriction on TV advertising and online adverts for foods high in fat, salt and sugar — until October 2025, as a sop to disgruntled Mps. With an election looming and a probable change of political direction, it’s unlikely they will ever see the light of day. BuTsuch is the escalating cost to the nation, it is time for all politicians to accept that government intervention is necessary — both for people’s health and Britain’s finances. There are reasons for hope. We have better labelling of food in shops, and calories are displayed on menus. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve altered my choice when I noticed how many calories were in a particular dish. And I shall never again buy a Starbucks vegan breakfast roll in the mistaken belief it’s a healthy option (425 calories!). Information is king and in order to take control of your weight and therefore your health and life, it’s one thing you cannot have too much of. I tackled my own problems step by step: I reduced my calorie intake slowly, eating smaller portions, avoiding sugar, and not drinking alcohol on week nights. I walk for at least 30 minutes a day, and have taken up pilates and yoga. I now weigh 9stsomething instead of 11 st. Willpower is one thing, but you can’t beat the support of a healthcare professional to help make meaningful change in your life, and I’d urge any reader to seek advice. But we need politicians to grasp the nettle, too, with powerful new measures to protect us from those who have no interest in the nation’s health but only in cashing in on Sick Britain.