Health campaigners say the Government’s obesity strategy is ‘collapsing’, after delaying a ban on junk food multi-buy and TV advertising for at least a year before the watershed.
Chef Jamie Oliver said banning ads was key to protecting children’s health.
The multiple purchase agreements have caused “people to spend more on junk food and less on healthy food,” the Children’s Food Campaign said.
But ministers say they are postponing the policy to assess its impact on the cost of living crisis.
The Department of Health and Social Care said the planned ban – due to be introduced in October – on “buy one, get one free” offers for high-fat food and drink, in salt or sugar as well as free refills of soft drinks, would be put on hold for 12 months.
Plans to restrict junk food TV advertising before 21:00 GMT and paid online ads are also on hold and will not come into effect until January 2024, the department added.
He added that restrictions on the placement of junk food in stores would continue into October.
Writing on Twitter, Mr Oliver – who has long campaigned to improve children’s access to healthier food – said restricting junk food advertising was crucial.
“It’s a squandered opportunity and it’s starting to erode the whole obesity strategy – which at one time seemed progressive and world-leading, but is falling apart when it comes to action. on these policies,” he said.
“Parents and children don’t want to hear any more excuses from the government. I really hope Prime Minister @BorisJohnson proves me wrong and shows real leadership to give young people a healthier and fairer future. »
The delay was also criticized as “unconservative” by former health minister Lord Bethall, who said it would be “extremely difficult” for the government to reverse the plans before the next election.
Lord Bethell, who previously served in Boris Johnson’s government, said illnesses caused by excessive consumption of junk food placed a burden on the NHS and the taxpayer.
Public Health government-sponsored research shows consumers buy about 20% more junk food than they normally would when sold through a promotion.
He also found that people don’t store extra food and drink, but rather increase their consumption.
A study published by Cancer Research UK in March also found “strong evidence” of targeted junk food advertising on social media directly encouraging young people aged 11-19 to make unhealthy choices.
The charity’s chief executive, Michelle Mitchell, said she was “incredibly disappointed” with the decision to postpone the bans, saying obesity was the second most preventable cause of cancer in the UK.
Obesity – what does the data say?
Around two-thirds of adults in England were overweight or obese – 28% of whom were considered obese – according to the latest NHS health survey in 2019.
Among children aged four to five, 14% are obese, and 13% overweight, the National Child Measurement Program found last year.
When surveying children aged 10 to 11, this figure rose to 25.5% obesity and 15.4% overweight.
These figures showed large increases from the previous year, when 9.9% of children aged four to donate and 21% of children aged 10 to 11 were obese.
Source: Digital NHS
Barbara Crowther, from the Children’s Food Campaign, said ministers should urgently limit multiple buy offers.
“Obesity is skyrocketing and millions of families cannot afford to eat properly. Multi-buy offers encourage people to spend more on junk food and less on healthy food,” she said.
“This delay threatens the UK’s target to halve childhood obesity by 2030. Boris is playing politics with the health of our children. »
Labour’s shadow health minister Andrew Gwynne said: ‘Instead of reducing childhood obesity, preventing ill health and easing pressure on the NHS, this chaotic government is making another U-turn . »
However, Public Health Minister Maggie Throup insisted the government remained committed to tackling the problem of childhood obesity.
“Suspending restrictions on offers such as ‘buy one, get one free’ will allow us to understand its impact on consumers in light of an unprecedented global economic situation,” she added.
The British Retail Consortium said banning multiple purchase offers is unlikely to make much of a difference as retailers have “significantly moved away” from it in recent years.
Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the consortium, hailed the delay in advertising rules as “one less distraction” for companies looking to focus on keeping prices low.
And industry body the Food and Drink Federation argued it made sense to delay restrictions on multiple buy offers as families and manufacturers grapple with high inflation. It would also give the industry time to prepare for a change in the law, he said.
When the government unveiled the planned restrictions, some of the UK’s biggest food companies, including Britvic, Kellogg’s and Mars, criticized them as disproportionate and lacking in evidence.
Last month, Kellogg’s said it would sue the government over restrictions preventing certain cereals from being placed in key locations in stores because of their high sugar content.
Laws requiring large restaurants, cafes and takeaways to list calories on their menus came into effect last month.
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- Junk food
- Jamie Olivier
- Childhood obesity
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