Obese people are being encouraged to ask their pharmacist about a free online NHS weight loss programme.
Until now, obese patients with either high blood pressure or diabetes had to be seen by their GP before they could access the 12-week weight management plan in England.
But from today, high street pharmacists can sign people up to the programme, which includes tailored plans on diet and exercise.
There is also access to apps and some people will be able to get one-to-one training and support.
People need to have a body mass index (BMI) over 30 to sign up and are contacted within 10 days to start the programme.
Those from Asian, black and minority ethnic backgrounds can join the programme at a lower BMI of 27.5, due to their increased risk of Type 2 diabetes.
Three in five adults in England are overweight, with more than one in four living with obesity.
Dr Bruce Warner, deputy chief pharmaceutical officer at NHS England, said: “Obesity is a significant threat to the nation’s health – it increases your chance of dying from Covid and puts you at greater risk of stroke, cancer and other deadly disease.
“The NHS’s radical action plan means it is now easier for people to take control of their health – adults with obesity can now walk into any high street community pharmacy to take the first step on a life-changing weight loss journey.”
Diabetes is estimated to cost the NHS £10 billion a year, with almost one in 20 GP prescriptions for a diabetes treatment.
Robert Pettifer, a pharmacist in Warwickshire, said: “Pharmacies play a vital role in the health and wellbeing of our communities, and it’s great that we can now refer people to this new weight loss programme.
“Trained pharmacy teams can support you on a journey to a healthier lifestyle using simple online plans.”
All 11,000 pharmacies in England have a trained “healthy living champion” who can offer people information.