People who put on weight during lockdown gained an average of half a stone, research by Public Health England (PHE) has found as it launched a new health drive.

A survey found 41 per cent of adults in England said they had put on weight since social restrictions came into place in March 2020.

Those who said they had gained weight reported adding an average of 4.1kg during the course of the pandemic, with 21 per cent saying they put on a stone or more.

Among adults aged 35 to 65, the average weight gained rose to 4.6kg.

Nearly half of those who reported gaining weight said it had mainly been caused by them sinking into bad eating habits, such as snacking and comfort eating.

It has prompted PHE to launch a new campaign to try to steer the nation – which has already struggled with high obesity levels in recent years – in a healthier direction this summer.

The vast majority of the individuals surveyed who had gained weight, 89 per cent, said they were motivated to bring healthy new habits into their life this summer.

PHE said its new ‘Better Health’ campaign would offer free, evidence-based advice and guidance to those hoping to lose weight.

It also recommended the NHS Weight Loss Plan App as an effective way to structure a healthy routine, with research suggesting those who used it for 12 weeks reported an average loss of almost a stone (5.8kg).

Dr Alison Tedston, the chief nutritionist for PHE, said: “The past sixteen months have caused many to change their habits so it is not a surprise to see so many people reporting weight gain.

“We know how hard it can be to lose weight and keep it off – so, we are providing a range of support options to help motivate people and help them maintain a healthy weight. It’s never too late to make changes to help improve your health.”

Jo Churchill, the public health minister, said: “The pandemic has been hugely challenging for everyone and it has upended our daily routines. As we build back better in the months ahead, we want to make it easier for people to adopt a healthier lifestyle that works for them."

The survey findings were based on a representative sample of 5,000 English adults aged over 18, who were contacted between July 2 and July 8.