High street pharmacists in England can now refer people to a free online NHS weight loss programme, which previously could only be accessed through a GP.
People with a body mass index (BMI) of more than 30 can sign up to the 12-week weight management plan via high street pharmacies, as the NHS ramps up its action plan to tackle obesity.
The programme is also available on a smartphone app and offers tailored plans on diet and exercise, as well as one-to-one training and support.
Until now, obese people with either high blood pressure or diabetes had to be seen by their GP before they could gain access to the plan.
According to the NHS, BMI is a measure that uses a person’s heigh and weight to work out if their weight is healthy, and the ideal BMI for most adults is in the 18.5 to 24.9 range.
A person is categorised in the obese range if their BMI is between 30 and 39.9. Obesity can put a person at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, some types of cancer, such a breast cancer and bowel cancer, and stroke, according to the NHS.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, obesity has also been linked to worse outcomes from the virus.
Three in five adults in England are overweight, with more than one in four living with obesity.
People from Asian, black and minority backgrounds will be able to join the programme at a lower BMI of 27.5, due to their increased risk of Type 2 diabetes.
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.”
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.
Additional reporting by PA