But now the 12-week plan- including tailored diets and exercise- can be accessed at pharmacies for people with a BMI over 30.

people need to have a body mass index ( bmi ) of 30.

People 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.

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.

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."

The online NHS course includes access to tailored diet and exercise plans, apps and one-to-one training and support (file photo used)

Diabetes is estimated to cost the NHS £10billion a year, with one in 20 GP prescriptions issued to treat the condition.

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.

All 11,000 English pharmacies have a trained "healthy living champion" who is able to offer people information.

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.

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.

During the pandemic, obesity has been linked to worse outcomes from Covid.

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