So many of this government’s flagship policies have been kicked into the long grass, it’s pretty much all been flattened by now.

Latest on the heap marked ‘shelved’ are plans for a sweeping crackdown on HFSS advertising, with ministers quietly – or at least that was the plan – pushing back the already-delayed introduction date of January 2024 late last week.

The proposals for a 9pm watershed and a ban on HFSS advertising online have been shunted back until October 2025, by which time we will have had another election and, unless the Conservatives pull off a shock comeback, another government will be in power.

After the news got out to campaign groups and the press, the DHSC convened a meeting with stakeholders on Friday to confirm the delays. The government did not think this was the right time to be burdening the food & drink and advertising industry with more red tape, it explained.

Understandably this explanation has gone down like a deep-fried Mars bar with health lobbyists, who have accused the government of a “complete betrayal” .

“I think it’s fair to say the reasoning they gave was greeted with incredulity,” says one source. “It seems there are to be three further consultations – but the timeline wasn’t clear, and we certainly didn’t detect any sense of urgency.

“They’re kicking this into the long grass, which puts the interests of industry ahead of people’s health.”

Food & drink and advertising bosses, on the other hand, were jubilant. The decision will have re-enforced hopes that under Rishi Sunak, the government is planning a “partnership” approach with industry, having heeded its calls to put the brakes on “unnecessary regulation” amid the worst economic crisis in decades.

In isolation, the industry would appear to have a strong argument. Now is not the ideal time to wreak havoc on its revenue streams, especially as the government’s own estimates suggest the ban will reduce calorie intake by two calories per day – the equivalent of half a Smartie.

That efficacy (or lack thereof) is suggested by the FDF’s statement. “We welcome the recognition by government of the challenging circumstances currently faced by industry, and the need for an appropriate implementation period,” says FDF chief scientist Kate Halliwell. “However, we still question whether this policy should be brought forward at all.”

Indeed, given the track record of policy delays and cancellations, there is a huge question mark over whether this is a delay or an axe to the plans. Especially if Labour, as it seems to have indicated in recent months, is intent on taking a less hostile approach to the food industry than its previous leadership.

Yet regardless of an individual’s position on this particular policy, surely everyone can acknowledge the disarray surrounding the government’s obesity strategy.

Last week, another announcement was snuck out quietly under the cover of darkness. The Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, which has so far had the sort of profile MI6 would be proud of, quietly released the final report of the government’s sugar reduction programme – another key part of ministers’ obesity plans.

Having been delayed by a year, the report showed the industry had achieved just a 3.5% reduction in sales weighted average total sugar per 100g in products sold between 2015 and 2020 – against a target of 20%.

Yet according to the DH, the programme had delivered “dramatic reductions”. It’s certainly a glass half full perspective, considering the amount of sugar in retail and manufacturing went up by more than 50,000 tonnes.

But perhaps the most powerful proof that the UK is failing in its mission came with last week’s government stats showing in England, 9.9% of children in reception were living with obesity – a figure that rose as high as 13.9% in the most deprived areas. Among children in year six in England, the average figure was 21.6%, and over 30% in the poorest areas.

Such statistics suggest a failure of not only the obesity strategy, but also the ‘levelling up’ agenda.

Health groups are now demanding the government abandons its voluntary measures and brings in new taxes. But even National Food Strategy author Henry Dimbleby, who suggested such tactics in his report, is resigned to that not happening anytime soon.

An optimistic view is that the government will finally realise the time has come to bring in evidence-based and streamlined health policies targeted to make the maximum impact.

It needs to work with the industry to incentivise healthier products, and create a level playing field with mandatory reporting on realistic health targets.

In short, it needs to stop talking tough on health one moment and backtracking like fury the next, making it impossible for industry to invest and prepare – and leaving health lobbyists banging their heads against the wall.