After weeks of speculation, Boris Johnson’s new crackdown on obesity was revealed today. The plans include a move to ban promotions of food high in fat, sugar or salt (HFSS) from prominent locations in stores, and the outlawing of volume deals for unhealthy food.
Here is how industry leaders and campaign groups reacted to the plans, which also include a 9pm watershed for HFSS products on TV.
Tim Rycroft, chief operating officer, FDF:
“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 – will be reeling today from this punishing blow.
“As the economy struggles to recover, new restrictions on promoting and advertising everyday food and drink will increase the price of food, reduce consumer choice and threaten jobs across the UK. And all to save 1.7 calories a day.
“A new government focus on the promotion of physical activity is welcome, but this package looks like a terrible missed opportunity. After months in which people have thought more about diet and exercise, we could have embarked on a bold programme to promote healthier lifestyles and better diet choices – encouraging consumption of fibre, fruit and vegetables. Instead, at the heart of this programme are old and discredited policies that will raise prices, limit choice and hit two of the UK’s most successful industries.
“It is extraordinary that the government is proposing a ban on promotions of food and drink in retail at such a precarious economic time. With household budgets more stretched than ever before, the Scottish government recently reversed its decision to press ahead with promotional restrictions. They said the Covid crisis had rendered their impact assessments meaningless. Why are things different in England?
“Government is pulling in different directions. From August the chancellor is paying for people to eat out whilst the health secretary is proposing banning promotions on the same foods in supermarkets.”
Katharine Jenner, campaign director at Action on Sugar and Action on Salt:
“We are delighted the government has finally recognised these huge food and drink companies have not been acting in our best interests when they advertise and discount their heavily processed, high in fat, salt and sugar, food and drinks. This will be hard to stomach for many of them, but for the more responsible companies, this is an opportunity to build back better, making and promoting healthier options.
“However, it’s a missed opportunity that mandatory targets for reformulation, i.e. removing unnecessary calories, sugar and salt from products, have been excluded from Boris’s announcement along with their proper enforcement. Furthermore, it’s absurd that the highly successful soft drinks levy has not been extended to other unhealthy sugar foods and drinks.”
Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability, BRC:
“Retailers have made good progress in supporting consumers to make healthier choices in the food they buy. However, more is needed to tackle obesity and this will require government action. Any intervention must be evidence-based and apply equally to all food businesses; this would ensure there is a consistent approach for consumers and that no business is penalised for doing the right thing.”
Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist, PHE:
“These plans are ambitious and rightly so. Tackling obesity will help prevent serious illness and save lives.
“The main reason we put on weight is because of what we eat and drink, but being more active is important too. Making healthier choices easier and fairer for everyone, and ensuring the right support is there for those who need it, is critical in tackling obesity.
“These bold measures will help us tip the scales on obesity. The argument for action is the clearest it’s ever been.”
Ben Reynolds, deputy chief executive, Sustain:
“There has never been a more important time for the government to take the bold, courageous action it has long promised. Tackling obesity is not just about personal willpower. You just have to look at the environment we live in – the torrent of unhealthy food that bombards us – dominating advertising, our high streets, through to in-store promotions, it’s everywhere.
“We need to stem this tide, we need to take junk food marketing out of the spotlight and give healthier food a chance. We welcome the government’s commitments to introducing a 9pm watershed for junk food advertising, and restrictions on promotions of unhealthy products in store, as well as the commitments to review labelling – this is something that the parents we hear from day in day out will also be celebrating.
“The inclusion of world-leading restrictions on junk food advertising is a real game-changer. Whilst it is not a silver bullet, it has been the missing ingredient in countless government strategies over the years to tackle obesity. We have been calling for a 9pm watershed on junk food advertising for over a decade. This will help make it easier for people to make healthier choices and remove one of the ways in which every day we’re nudged towards unhealthier options.”
Sue Eustace, director of public affairs, Advertising Association:
“We are bitterly disappointed by the announcement today by the government that they are to press ahead with measures against advertising that are misguided, unfounded and will be totally ineffective in the fight against obesity. The government’s very own research has shown that a 9pm watershed ban on HFSS advertising will reduce a child’s calorie intake by a miniscule 1.7 calories per day – the equivalent of half a Smartie.
“The unwarranted and unprecedented ban on online HFSS advertising is a blunt and totally disproportionate measure. It will prevent food and drink businesses large and small up and down the country from being able to advertise and market their products. It will also impact online publishers, with consequences for journalism.
“Given the already strict rules in place, enforced by the ASA, these new measures would be wrong even in the most favourable economic circumstances, but to impose them during the current climate is an affront to hard-working business owners and is not what would be expected of a government seeking to create a business-friendly environment.
“These proposed bans on HFSS advertising will not solve the structural inequalities linked to deprivation that cause higher rates of obesity among people, just as attention-grabbing new regulations will not undo decades of under-investment in targeted and community-based health initiatives.
“Advertising has a unique ability to be part of the solution to obesity by promoting healthy lifestyles, as the recent ‘Eat Them To Defeat Them’ TV campaign to encourage children to eat vegetables shows. It seems the government has ignored its own research showing how ineffective these proposals would be.”
Michelle Mitchell, chief executive, Cancer Research UK:
“This is a landmark day for the nation’s health. Being overweight or obese puts people at risk of many diseases, including 13 different types of cancer, and disproportionately affects people from poorer backgrounds, so the plan will hugely help to level up the country and build a healthier population.
“Endless adverts and promotions for junk food give us cravings and normalise bad diets, which is why we have been campaigning relentlessly for a TV watershed, online restrictions and multibuy ban. Our research found that most brands advertising unhealthy food and drink before 9pm made a healthier product they could advertise instead, so it’s brilliant the government has now taken action to push industry to focus on promoting these in their place.”
Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of Alcohol Health Alliance UK:
“The government’s plans to consult on ending the current exemption for alcohol products from calorie labelling requirements are very welcome. When the calorie equivalent of a large glass of white wine is the same as a slice of pizza, or a cocktail is the equivalent of a cheeseburger, it is clear why alcohol products should be included in the government’s plans to tackle the obesity crisis.
“Alcohol is a factor in more than 200 health conditions and is the leading risk factor of death among 15 to 49-year-olds in England. Labelling on all alcohol products with prominent health warnings, low-risk drinking guidelines, information on ingredients, nutrition and calories would help equip the public with the knowledge they need to make healthier decisions about what and how much they drink. If we want to build a healthier, more resilient society we need to wake up to the harm alcohol does to people’s health.”
James Lowman, chief executive, ACS:
“Government policy and resource needs to be focused on expanding choice and healthy food availability, not on regulations that would make life harder for shops that are maintaining access to food for their communities.
“Restrictions on where products can be sited would not be workable for small stores. Convenience stores are small, so the introduction of restrictions on where products can be sited would present retailers with significant practical and operational challenges.”
Professor Judith Buttriss, director general, British Nutrition Foundation:
“The British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) welcomes the initiatives NHS England and Public Health England have announced to support people who are living with obesity to improve their health. While concerns over the prevalence of obesity among young people has led to a focus on factors that influence children’s diets and activity habits, Covid-19 has shown us that we need to do more now to tackle adult obesity, alongside initiatives targeted at promoting a healthy lifestyle in children.
“Research on Covid-19 and obesity is at an early stage but obesity appears to be associated with worse coronavirus outcomes. There is also strong evidence that obesity increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers.
“Support for people who want to lose weight and improve their health, from the new NHS England and PHE initiatives, is a step in the right direction. However, given the scale of the problem, it is likely that further action across many different areas will be needed in order to have a significant impact on obesity levels. The progressive rise in obesity we have seen in recent decades is related to major changes in our environment and the way we live, where energy dense foods are readily available and it’s very easy to be inactive. Therefore, tackling obesity requires many changes to make it easier for us to act on our intentions to improve our health, to eat healthily and be active, and this is not something that is quick or easy to fix.
“To tackle obesity effectively we also need to address the socioeconomic inequalities that we know are associated with risk of obesity, especially in light of the serious economic effects of the Covid-19 outbreak that are expected to be with us for some time. It is important that any measures to encourage weight loss do not make the stigma associated with obesity worse – this makes it even harder for people to lose weight and may discourage some from seeking medical support.
“The reasons why people develop obesity are complex and are not simply due to lack of willpower or motivation. Losing weight, and especially keeping it off, is very challenging and people need effective support to help them do this, in order to improve our health as a nation long-term.”
Brinsley Dresden, partner at law firm Lewis Silkin:
“The proposed ban on so-called ‘junk food’ advertising is not evidence based policy, but a knee jerk reaction by the Prime Minister to his personal experiences.
“There are already very strict rules about scheduling for high fat, sugar, salt goods advertising around TV programmes aimed at the under 16s. The Advertising Association has produced research to show that the marginal impact of extending the current restrictions to a pre-9pm ban on calorie consumption would be minimal.
“Tam Fry, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, is reported as saying “there hasn’t been a ban like this but it has got to be given a try - and if after a period of time it is shown not to be so effective, then maybe it will stop.” The trouble is that we’ve had ad bans and scheduling restrictions for years, but their impact has been limited and the obesity problem continues unabated.
“The 9pm ban has a dangerous displacement effect: it allows the government to present itself as if it is taking decisive action to combat obesity. In fact, it just more of the same and it is cheap for the government to implement, as it requires no public spending, unlike providing school playing fields, after school activities for children, domestic science lessons, or any number of other policies that would be a more useful addition to the existing advertising restrictions.
“The cost of the ban will be borne by struggling broadcasters and advertisers, but it will serve no useful purpose. It will have no meaningful impact on obesity. It only serves as a policy fig leaf for the government.”