The Prime Minister has announced restrictions on how junk food can be advertised and sold in the UK, in efforts to tackle the nation’s high levels of obesity.
The move comes after a group of eight public health directors wrote to Boris Johnson calling for the underlying causes of unhealthy weight (from poverty to the availability of junk food) to be included in the Government’s anti-COVID obesity strategy. The group urged the Government to create an environment in which it is ‘easy for people to make the healthy choice’.
The PM’s own hospitalization in April after testing positive for coronavirus is said to have also played a part in his change of heart, having previously criticized so-called ‘sin taxes’. In June he told Times Radio that he is abandoning his ‘libertarian stance on obesity’.
We will be happier, fitter and more resistant to diseases like COVID if we can tackle obesity
“We will be happier, fitter and more resistant to diseases like COVID if we tackle obesity.” The PM is reported to consider weight a contributing factor in his own brush with coronavirus and has since been addressing this through increased exercise.
Under the new plans there will be a pre-9pm watershed on TV ads and tighter controls on in-store promotions of junk food. Large restaurants and takeaways could be required to display calorie information on menus, while the same is intended for alcoholic drinks.
Responding on behalf of the Food & Drink Federation, Tim Rycroft, chief operating officer, says: “This will come as a slap in the face to the UK’s food and drink manufacturers and the half a million people we employ, so recently the heroes heralded by government for feeding the nation during the COVID crisis.
“With household budgets more stretched than ever before, restrictions on promotions and advertising will increase the price of food, reduce consumer choice and threaten jobs and investment across the UK at a precarious economic time.
“The proposals are illogical, flying in the face of the Government’s own reformulation programmes. We could see a ban on promotions of food such as mustard and mint sauce, days before the launch of the Chancellor’s ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ campaign. Already hard-pressed shoppers can expect to see their weekly shop become more expensive, at an average cost of £600 per family. We could have the Great British Bake Off with no cake adverts allowed. It will place enormous cost on broadcasters, while manufacturers who have done so much to bring new healthier options to market will now find they have no way of bring these to shoppers’ attention.”
In case you missed it
In his live interview with Times Radio on 29 June, here’s what Boris Johnson had to say on the topic of obesity:
“I have taken a very libertarian stance on obesity but actually, when you look at the numbers, 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. It is an issue. I think it’s something that we all need to address.
What we want to do is work on a big, big programme to build the nation back to health
“I think we certainly must have a care for the health of our population and we will be happier, fitter and more resistant to diseases like COVID if we can tackle obesity. I don’t think politicians can treat it as irrelevant. It does matter. It’s hugely costly for the NHS. Now, how you talk about it, how you address it, how you practically make the difference – that’s what we’re looking at. What we want to do is work on a big, big programme to build the nation back to health – bounce forward.
“This [pandemic] has been a disaster, I mean let’s not mince our words. This has been an absolute nightmare for the country. The country has gone through a profound shock, but in those moments you have the opportunity to change and do things better.”