The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) said pharmacy teams should play a much stronger role in getting their community into shape.
Releasing a new “quality standard” on the issue, Nice said pharmacists are being told to start conversations about topics such as weight loss when people come to pick up their prescriptions or buy over the counter products.
Health officials said visiting the local chemist is a good opportunity to discuss how to adopt a healthy lifestyle and is less confronting than a doctors appointment.
Professor Gillian Leng, deputy chief executive and director of health and social care at Nice, said: “Community pharmacists engage every day with people who buy over-the-counter medicines, collect prescriptions or ask for advice.
“This is a vital opportunity to support people to maintain good health but also signpost them to other health services.”
Nice said pharmacists “have good relationships with the local population and an understanding of the physical, economic and social challenges some individuals face”.
In 2017/18, there were 10,660 hospital admissions for obesity, 489,300 for smoking and 337,870 for excess drinking.
Tam Fry, from the National Obesity Forum, said: “Popping into the local chemist and having a chat about health issues is, for a lot of people, hugely less threatening than a formal appointment with ‘the doctor’.
“Chemists welcome this contact as they seek to play a greater role in their customers’ wellbeing.
“When it comes to weight issues, some will appreciate that extra training may be required to handle the conversation, but that will be par for the course for a health professional.”
Keith Ridge, chief pharmaceutical officer for the NHS, said: “The NHS is making care more easily and conveniently available on the high street, with pharmacists offering more expert services than ever before as part of the NHS Long Term Plan.
“Pharmacists are already playing a bigger clinical role in the NHS through providing advice and treatment to people with minor illnesses, as well as increasingly being able to advise on killer conditions like heart problems and helping to tackle antibiotic resistance.”
Primary care minister Jo Churchill said: “Highly-skilled community pharmacists are an integral and trusted part of the NHS and we want every patient with a minor illness, or those seeking wellbeing guidance, to think ‘Pharmacy First’.
“As the health service treats more patients than ever before, it is paramount that, where appropriate, patients can be assessed close to home, saving unnecessary trips to A&E or their GP and helping them get the care they need quicker.”