After an indulgent period of festive feasting, many pledge to lose weight, exercise more and drink less when January arrives. But NHS medical director Professor Stephen Powis said fads such as diet pills, “tea-toxes” and appetite suppressants could at best be a waste of money and at worst pose a risk to our health.
He said: “It’s always a good time to try to get in shape, and new year’s resolutions are a great time to make a change, but the reality is there’s a slim chance of success with diet pills and detox teas – and people could end up doing more harm than good. “Making new year goals and shifting a few excess pounds after Christmas can be a good idea but is much easier to maintain when done gradually and safely.” Products claiming to help people lose weight quickly while reducing appetite and fatigue can have damaging side effects including diarrhoea, heart problems and even unplanned pregnancies caused by interference with oral contraception.
After an indulgent period of festive feasting, many pledge to lose weight
NHS medical director Professor Stephen Powis said fad diets are risky
Prof Powis added: “A good rule of thumb is: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
“Modern fads of ‘detox teas’, laxative drinks and appetite suppressant pills also promise the earth but can cost mind and body.
“Get-fit-quick solutions can affect the digestive system and cause heart problems, as well as impacting mental health, by driving people towards seeking an idealised but unattainable body image.”
The NHS’s warning follows calls earlier this year for social media firms to crack down on influential celebrities posting misleading “get fit quick” adverts.
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Britons who make shedding some pounds their New Year’s resolution have a “slim chance of success”
Kim Kardashian West was criticised in 2018 for advertising appetite-suppressing lollipops to more than 100 million followers on Instagram, in a post which was later deleted.
Instagram clamped down on diet and cosmetic surgery posts in September, announcing new rules that will see some hidden from under-18s and others promoting “miraculous” weight loss products removed.
With one in four young people saying their appearance is their top concern, Professor Powis warned that easy availability of quick-fix products online and on the high street – including buy one get one free offers – could exploit body image anxiety.
There is no doubt that some of us could benefit from shedding a few pounds, with two thirds of UK adults either overweight or obese.
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28 per cent of adults and 18 per cent of children ate five or more portions of fruit and veg a day
The most recent Health Survey for England found that just 28 per cent of adults and 18 per cent of children ate five or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day in 2018.
More than half of adults (56 per cent) were found to be at increased, high, or very high risk of chronic disease due to their waist circumference and BMI.
However, Prof Powis stressed the importance of losing weight safely using “the tried and tested methods which have worked for generations: eating well and exercising often”.
He added: “Alongside cutting-edge treatments and improved access to care, the NHS Long Term Plan is helping people to stay in control of their own health, including the revolutionary Diabetes Prevention Programme which helps people to lose weight safely, while NHS.uk has helpful tips, including a 12-week weight loss plan, alongside recommended apps to help boost fitness.”
More than half of adults have a high risk of chronic disease
The British Nutrition Foundation also urged people to “ditch the January diet and keep healthy eating simple”.
The foundation’s science director Sara Stanner said: “Although many of us start the year with the best intentions to get healthy, in reality, following a complicated diet plan can often just be too time-consuming, and too expensive to keep up.
“To make New Year’s healthy eating pledges last, you need to ditch the January diet, and take a step back to consider the basics of healthy eating.”
For quick and simple healthy options, Stanner recommended stocking up on certain canned and frozen foods which can help you put together a balanced dish in a hurry.
She said: “Despite frequent media attention around the importance of ‘clean eating’, healthy food doesn’t have to mean expensive ingredients and cooking absolutely everything from scratch.
“The term ‘processed foods’ covers a wide range of different foods with varying nutritional qualities.
“While some are not healthy choices, others, like canned pulses or frozen vegetables, can be part of a healthy diet, and can help you to cook balanced meals, even when you’re in a hurry.
“Cost can be a large barrier when it comes to improving your diet, but with some savvy shopping, healthy eating doesn’t need to break the bank.
“Economy ranges are usually great value, and nutritionally there is often little difference between them and the standard or branded versions.”