Boris Johnson Rethinking ‘Libertarian’ Stance On Public Health: British ‘Are Significantly Fatter Than Most’

United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson is rethinking his stance against “nanny state” interventions to the country’s obesity rate.

Johnson told Times Radio on Monday that he was rethinking his stance on government intervention to fight obesity because of the pandemic. Obesity has been linked to more severe reactions to the virus, especially in younger patients who do not have any other underlying health conditions.

“I have taken a very libertarian stance on obesity,” Johnson said, according to Bloomberg. “But actually when you look at the numbers [and] when you look at the pressure on the NHS, compare, I’m afraid, this wonderful country of ours to other European countries, we are significantly fatter than most.”

The prime minister was hospitalized with COVID-19 and admitted to an intensive care unit in early April. After recovering, Johnson reportedly contributed the disease’s particularly hard impact on him to his weight, and his experience has caused him to rethink his approach to limits on government intervention in people’s lives.

“We will be happier and fitter and more resistant to diseases like COVID if we can tackle obesity,” Johnson said, noting that he is reviewing the arguments for and against the government taking a more intrusive approach to public health. “We certainly must have a care for the health of our population.”

Later in the interview, Johnson said that the British government should take “a Rooseveltian approach” to recovering after the pandemic, referencing the 32nd president of the United States Franklin D. Roosevelt. Attempting to bring the United States back from the Great Depression, former President Roosevelt oversaw one of the largest expansions of government under The New Deal.

“You can’t at this moment go back to austerity. That would be a mistake,” Johnson said, according to Politico.

The prime minister said that the virus, which has killed more than 43,000 people in the United Kingdom, “has been a disaster, an absolute nightmare for the country.”

As recently as last year, Johnson had railed against “nanny state” policies, such as taxes on sugary drinks, put in place to force people into choosing healthier eating and drinking options. While campaigning to become the prime minister, Johnson attacked so-called “sin taxes” on less healthy foods and said such policies “clobber those who can least afford it.”

“It’s time to take a proper look at the continuing creep of the nanny state and the impact it has on hardworking families across Britain,” Johnson said in July 2019. “If we want people to lose weight and live healthier lifestyles, we should encourage people to walk, cycle and generally do more exercise. Rather than just taxing people more, we should look at how effective the so-called ‘sin taxes’ really are, and if they actually change behavior.”

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