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Celebrity chef has heated clash with minister over obesity on live TV

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall told Victoria Atkins her government has done 'next to nothing' to address obesity.

Watch: TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall tackles health secretary over obesity plan

TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has had a heated on-air clash with health secretary Victoria Atkins over obesity.

Fearnley-Whittingstall, an obesity campaigner, was appearing as a panellist on the BBC's Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg programme and directly addressed Atkins, accusing her government of doing "next to nothing" to address the problem.

After Atkins attempted to defend herself, Fearnley-Whittingstall said: "I didn't hear any obesity strategy."

The Health Survey for England, released in 2022, found more than a quarter of adults – 26% – are obese. The Department of Health has estimated obesity costs the NHS about £6bn a year.

Fearnley-Whittingstall told Atkins: "It's the single biggest factor in the ailing health of the nation. Treating obesity is the single biggest cost to the NHS. We have got approaching three million people who are long-term sick. The estimated cost to the economy of obesity is £100bn a year.

"You've done next to nothing to help these ailing, struggling, sick citizens of the UK find healthier food."

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall accused the government of doing 'next to nothing' on obesity. (BBC)
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall accused the government of doing 'next to nothing' on obesity. (BBC)

Atkins, who has been health secretary since November, said the government would soon be releasing a "prevention strategy", including obesity.

She added: "We make the mistake, I think, of siloing obesity by itself. We know that it can have many, many other conditions, including causing type two diabetes."

Delays to obesity measures

Kuenssberg went on to push Atkins on government delays to obesity measures.

One measure is a ban on multi-buy deals for food high in fat, salt or sugar. Last year, however, this was set back to October 2025, with Rishi Sunak saying: "I firmly believe in people's right to choose." He also said it would be "unfair" to restrict consumers amid the cost of living crisis.

Another delay Sunak's government has overseen is a ban on pre-watershed adverts for junk food, also rescheduled to October 2025.

Atkins didn't address this, instead talking about investment in tech for doctors and nurses, and changes to the NHS app.

Victoria Atkins on the BBC's Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg programme. (PA)
Victoria Atkins on the BBC's Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg programme. (PA)

Fearnley-Whittingstall responded to her comments by saying: "I didn't hear any obesity strategy."

He also referred to previous health secretary Jeremy Hunt's 2018 commitment to halve childhood obesity by 2030.

"They've done nothing; they haven't made a tiny dent," Fearnley-Whittingstall said. "There's a whole raft of policy levers they could be pulling. If they were serious about tackling obesity they would be pulling all of them."

Doctors' workloads and general health

According to a survey of medics released last week, a significant amount of doctors' workloads are being taken up by factors such as mouldy and damp homes, lack of access to healthy food, smoking and obesity, employment or education problems and poor air quality.

The poll, conducted by the three Royal Colleges of Physicians, found more than half – 55% – of doctors say they have seen more patients with ill-health caused or worsened by the wider determinants of health.

Dr Sarah Clarke, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said: "Everything from the food we eat to the air we breathe impacts our health. Good health is an economic asset.

"If we are to reduce these avoidable demands on the NHS... we must see a comprehensive, cross-government strategy to reduce health inequalities that tackles the things that make us ill in the first place."