Boris Johnson has told overweight people to get fit this summer.
The prime minister, while saying he is reluctant to “nanny” the public, said people need to shed pounds to help protect themselves from the coronavirus.
Some 27% of adults in the UK are obese, with 35% overweight.
The prime minister himself has reportedly identified his own weight as a key factor behind his brush with death with the virus earlier this year.
He said on Friday he is “on the way” having lost “a stone and a bit” since recovering from his ordeal.
Johnson, while visiting a medical centre in Beckton, east London, was asked if the summer should be one of weight loss – with people exercising and cutting out junk food – to guard against a fresh COVID-19 outbreak in the winter.
He said: “I’m afraid it should. I’m not normally a believer in nannying or bossying [sic] type of politics, but the reality is that obesity is one of the real comorbidity factors.
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“Losing weight is frankly one of the ways you can reduce your own risks from COVID.
“Actually, it’s one of the ways you can generally improve your health and protect the NHS. Yes, certainly, I would encourage people.”
It comes amid reports junk food adverts could be banned before the 9pm watershed and snack promotions curbed.
Unhealthy foods could also be prohibited from online advertising, the Financial Times has reported.
Ministers and officials are still finalising the plans, the paper said.
The chairman of the National Obesity Forum believes the PM’s time in hospital with COVID-19 has turned his attentions to people’s weight.
Tam Fry told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think his experience in St Thomas’ Hospital was a real game changer, and I believe that this was the reason why he has suddenly become so involved in curing obesity.
“Because he knows full well that his weight was a great problem when they were coming to treat him.”