Best-one Gilfach Crisps and Snacks

  • The paper claims that panic buying contributed to the death toll because consumers turned to cheap junk foods too readily available

  • Co-author Graham MacGregor said limited access to fresh foods during lockdown led to “a greater consumption of highly processed foods”


Food industry bosses have described as “deeply offensive” a new paper in a leading medical journal that claims food and drink manufacturers are to blame for the “devastating” consequences of the coronavirus crisis.

The editorial published in the BMJ, by researchers at Queen Mary University of London, claims that the toll of coronavirus, which has seen more than 40,000 deaths in the UK, is “yet one more health problem exacerbated by the obesity pandemic”.

It follows a report by Public Health England last week that suggested people with obesity were more likely to become victims of coronavirus.

The editorial claims the food industry shares the blame not only for the obesity problems, but also for the severity of Covid-19. It claims that lockdown and the spurt of panic buying contributed to the death toll because consumers turned to cheap junk foods too readily available.

“During the Covid-19 pandemic an increase in food poverty, disruptions to supply chains, and panic buying may have limited access to fresh foods, thus tilting the balance towards a greater consumption of highly processed foods and those with long shelf lives that are usually high in salt, sugar, and saturated fat,” says report co-author Graham MacGregor, who is chairman of Action on Sugar and Salt.

“Moreover, since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic the food industry has launched campaigns and corporate social responsibility initiatives, often with thinly veiled tactics using the outbreak as a marketing opportunity (for example, by offering half a million “smiles” in the form of doughnuts to NHS staff).”

The editorial calls on the industry to “immediately stop promoting” HFSS foods and calls on the government to “force reformulation of unhealthy foods and drinks”.

Campaign groups have stepped up their calls for a new war on obesity in the past few weeks with the government having delayed plans including new targets on salt and calories, a clampdown on HFSS promotions and restrictions on advertising of unhealthy food to children, due to the outbreak.

However, FDF COO Tim Rycroft said: “Professor MacGregor’s extreme views on the food industry are well known. To blame the food industry for the Covid-19 mortality rate is deeply offensive. Millions of key workers across the supply chain have continued to work throughout this pandemic and are hidden heroes, keeping Britain fed.

“Food and drink manufacturers are fully engaged with a wide range of government-led initiatives designed to tackle the huge public health challenge of obesity. FDF members’ voluntary work is already delivering substantial changes. Compared to four years ago, FDF member products contribute 11% less calories, 11% fewer sugars, and 14% less salt to the average shopping basket.

“We believe the government should now invest money in specific measures that support those people and areas most affected by obesity. We believe a whole lifestyle approach will be most effective, focusing on how we achieve a balanced diet and keep active, and not on any single nutrient.