MPs call for action on prevention to tackle the obesity and fatty liver disease crisis

Posted on: 5th April 2023

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Liver Disease and Liver Cancer has held a panel discussion on the policy solutions to tackle the obesity crisis and rise in fatty liver disease. The meeting also launched a UK Consensus Statement on non-alcohol related fatty liver disease.

The British Liver Trust runs the secretariat and organises the activity for the APPG – we aim to be the voice in parliament for people living with liver disease and cancer. We want to raise awareness and ensure that liver disease is on the political agenda.

The panel featured leading voices in public health including Shadow Public Health Minister, Andrew Gwynne (Labour), former Public Health Ministers Maggie Throup (Conservative) and Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Labour), and Kat Jenner (Director of the Obesity Health Alliance).

The event highlighted that excess weight is driving an epidemic in non-alcohol related fatty liver disease (NAFLD) – the harmful accumulation of fat in the liver. Shockingly, two thirds of adults in the UK are overweight or obese – placing millions at higher risk of nafld and other chronic diseases and a multitude of cancers that can lead to premature death.

Wayne David MP, Chair of the APPG on Liver Disease and Liver Cancer, emphasised the huge impact of fatty liver disease in driving obesity related ill health. NAFLD doubles the risk of developing liver cancer – the fastest rising cause of cancer death in the UK – and has a multiplier effect on the risk of developing heart disease and liver, colon, breast, prostate, lung and pancreatic cancers.

Obesity is also exacerbating huge pressures facing the NHS. Shadow Public Health Minister, Andrew Gwynne MP spoke about Labour’s vision for tackling childhood obesity and worsening health inequalities as key drivers of obesity related ill health:

“The causes of obesity are complex and multifaceted. We’ve been very clear that tackling health inequalities is going to be a core component of our mission to build an NHS that’s fit for the future... We are considering a number of different interventions – whether it be reformulation to early years support to advertising – we’ve got to think radically and holistically when looking at a problem that is this profound.”

Maggie Throup MP shared her experience as Public Health Minister during the Covid 19 pandemic. She highlighted the huge cost of obesity to workforce productivity and stressed need for government action to level up population health.

“The key question must be how we keep more of the workforce healthier for longer... It’s been estimated that those who are obese take 4 extra sick days a year which equates to 37 million sick days across the UK working population.”

“This has got to have a huge impact on the economy and productivity as well as cost of wealth payment and I haven’t even mentioned the cost to the NHS… It’s not just about levelling up bricks and mortar. It’s about levelling up health which in turn will level up productivity and whole population outcomes.”

Kat Jenner, the Chair of the Obesity Health Alliance urged the Government to bring forward policies which are proven to be most effective in reducing obesity. Measures which target the food and drinks industry are proven to be more effective than individual behaviour change in improving public health. She spotlighted the legacy of upstream interventions such as the smoking ban and the sugar tax which helped to reduce lung cancer and childhood obesity.

The Obesity Health Alliance called for a new regulatory framework to help tackle the unhealthy food and drink environment, highlighting the need to incentivise the junk food industry to reformulate products high in fat, salt and sugar and limit the exposure of children and young people to harmful junk food marketing.

Kat Jenner said: “Fatty liver disease is an avoidable disease that is unavoidable as a result of the junk food cycle... As policy makers we do have a choice. We can change the broken food system.”

Pamela Healy OBE, Chief Executive of the British Liver Trust concluded the debate with a call for action for Parliamentarians to help raise the fatty liver disease epidemic up the political agenda.

“Building on this momentum today, I urge Parliamentarians to support our calls for a backbench business debate calling for prevention and early detection of fatty liver disease to be at the heart of government action on obesity. With your support, we can turn the tide on preventable deaths caused by obesity and fatty liver disease and reduce the huge burden facing the NHS in the future.”