junk food burger obesity

Health campaigners have accused the government of a “complete betrayal” after it emerged plans for a crackdown on junk food advertising were being shelved until after the next general election.

It is understood ministers will lay regulations in parliament this week that will put the start date back until October 2025.

The move comes after the government announced in June the plans, including a 9pm watershed on junk food ads and a sweeping ban on online HFSS marketing, were being delayed from a start date of January 2023 to January 2024. The Grocer revealed in February that then health secretary Sajid Javid had been granted powers to postpone the measures if the timeframe for companies proved “unworkable”.

The government has faced strong pressure from the food and drink and advertising industry to shelve the plans, which they claim will hit companies already struggling in the cost of living crisis.

The government has also not yet held a technical consultation with the industry, which sources claim has made it impossible for companies to prepare for the plans.

However, health campaigners slammed the delay, saying it was another example of the government’s failure to follow through with its obesity strategy. “Delaying junk food advertising restrictions is a shocking move by the government, with no valid justification to do so, other than giving a flimsy excuse that businesses need more time to prepare and reformulate,” said Katharine Jenner, director of the Obesity Health Alliance.

She added: “Children currently in reception class will now have to face a devastating health trajectory, as efforts to improve their future health have been fatally undermined.”

The move comes after a new study published in the BMJ showed that cases of type 2 diabetes in young adults have risen faster in Britain than anywhere else in the world. “This is the action of a government that seems to care more about its own short-term political health than the longer-term health of children,” added Jenner.

“We urge Rishi Sunak to reverse this attack on child health and to shorten the delay to 2024, to at least give children a better chance to grow up healthy.”

Professor Graham MacGregor, chairman of Action on Sugar and Salt, added: “This news is hugely disappointing and goes against all the overwhelming evidence and public support in favour of it.

“The only people to benefit from this baseless delay are the multinational food companies who are used to making huge profits from their unhealthy products and do not have a vested interest in the nation’s health.”

Chris Askew, CEO of Diabetes UK, described the delay as “disgraceful”.

“Delaying action will disproportionately impact the lowest-income households, who have less access to healthy food and are targeted by a greater amount of advertising of unhealthy food.

“The government’s shameful decision to delay these vital measures means that people living in the most deprived areas will continue to be pushed towards unhealthy options, further entrenching the health inequalities that exist in rates of type 2 diabetes and obesity in England.”

Ben Reynolds, deputy CEO of Sustain, said: “If this government is serious about halving child obesity it makes no sense to more than double the delay to this flagship policy to help deliver that. There is no justification for doing this other than appeasing the advertising and food industry and a handful of backbench lobbyists.

“It should be easy for everyone to eat healthily, especially children. But it isn’t. And in this cost of living crisis, it is not right that companies will continue to spend millions of pounds advertising a constant stream of unhealthy food, when what people really need is more affordable, healthy food and drinks.”

A Department of Health & Social Care spokeswoman said: “The government takes tackling obesity seriously. Having a fit and healthy population is essential for a thriving economy and we remain committed to helping people live healthier lives.

“We will continue to work closely with industry to make it easier for people to make healthier choices so that everyone can access healthy, affordable and high-quality food.”