LONDON – Prime Minister Boris Johnson suggested a link between his weight and his susceptibility to COVID-19 as he launched a new government anti-obesity program on Monday that will limit ads for junk food and require restaurants and pubs to post calories for foods and drinks.
The campaign began with newspaper editorials and a social media blitz that included a video showing Johnson walking in slow motion, accompanied by inspirational string music and his dog, Dilyn.
"I was too fat," Johnson says in the video, about his physique back in April when he was sick with COVID-19 and was rushed to a hospital to be saved by supplemental oxygen.
He says he'd struggled with his weight for ages. But since recovering from the virus, he has begun to focus more on exercise, starting his days with "quite a gentle run." He notes that he has lost more than 14 pounds. And he encourages Brits to join him in his effort.
Embracing the role of weight watcher in chief is a bold move for a 56-year-old leader who has boasted his favorite meal is a plate of English sausages, potatoes and a good Tignanello red from Tuscany.
It is also a somewhat unusual stance for Johnson as a longtime critic of the so-called "nanny state."
He tried to assure Brits on Monday that he wasn't trying to force anything on them.
The point of the new anti-obesity campaign is "just trying to help people a little bit to bring their weight down — not in an excessively bossy or nannying way, I hope," he said.
He added, "We want this one to be really sympathetic to people, to understand the difficulties that people face with their weight, the struggles that many, many people face to lose weight, and just to be helpful."
The British newspapers, though, didn't seem to buy any nuance in Johnson's approach.
"Boris Johnson orders GPs to be brutally honest with patients about their weight," the Sun headline said of general practitioners. The Daily Mail went with: "Boris Johnson orders obese people to get on their bikes and lose weight."
Some on social media appreciated Johnson's effort — and promised to accompany him on his "weight journey." Others were dismissive, even cruel, posting fat-shaming memes and videos of the prime minister huffing and puffing in his rumpled running outfits.
During Monday's news briefing, political reporters tried to drill down on precisely how much the prime minister weighed. Johnson has, in effect, invited the Westminster press pack to forever keep close tabs on his waist size.
Government officials were evasive.
"I don't have anything for you on that I'm afraid," a 10 Downing Street spokesman told the Post.
Johnson is sending the country to the scale at a stressful time, when Britons have been hunkering in place for months, jawing on comfort food. Britain has reopened its pubs — but not gyms.