Ban on junk food adverts included in anti-obesity plans
The government has announced that a ban on junk food adverts before 21:00 will be included in its new measures to crack down on obesity.
Any ‘buy one get one free’ promotions on unhealthy foods will also be prohibited, along with restrictions on other promotions for foods high in fat and sugar.
There will also be new rules for restaurants, cafes and takeaways with over 250 employees, requiring them to clearly display numbers of calories on their menus.
Prime minister Boris Johnson said that the measures will “reduce health risks” and help “protect ourselves against coronavirus”.
Official figures indicate that eight per cent of seriously ill patients in intensive care units with coronavirus were classed as morbidly obese, compared to 2.9 per cent of the wider population.
Johnson, who has previously described his views on curbing obesity as “libertarian”, is thought to have had a change of heart following his own experience in intensive care battling Covid-19 earlier in the year.
Writing in the Daily Express newspaper, Johnson said: "We all put things off - I know I have. I've wanted to lose weight for ages and like many people I struggle with my weight.
"I go up and down, but during the whole coronavirus epidemic and when I got it too, I realised how important it is not to be overweight."
The government will also hold consultation on whether to ban fast food adverts online completely, and whether to have calorie information labelled on alcoholic beverages in future.
Sue Eustace, the Advertising Assocation’s director of public affairs, labelled the measures “extreme” and “unnecessary”.
She played down the effect they may have on curbing obesity and warned of “wide ranging ramifications” for businesses as they strive to recover from the economic effects of Covid-19.
She told BBC Radio 5 Live: "We have some of the strictest [advertising] rules in the world already and children's exposure to high fat, salt, and sugar adverts on TV has fallen by 70 per cent over the last 15 years or so, but there's been no change to obesity, so we don't think these measures are going to work."
Eustace was concerned that the blanket measures could effect a range of foods that are not necessarily viewed as junk food, adding that businesses such as fish and chip shops could be restricted from putting their menus online by the new rules.
The NHS will support the government’s new measures with new online portals for helping people manage their weight, along with a national healthy eating campaign. GPs will also be encouraged to prescribe exercise to patients, while doctors will be offered incentives to help obese people lose weight from 2021.
Health secretary Matt Hancock told the Telegraph: "This deadly virus has given us a wake-up call about the need to tackle the stark inequalities in our nation's health, and obesity is an urgent example of this.
"If everyone who is overweight lost five pounds it could save the NHS more than £100 million over the next five years. And more importantly, given the link between obesity and coronavirus, losing weight could be lifesaving.
"Obesity is one of the greatest long-term health challenges that we face as a country."
There has been a mixed response to the measures from health experts.
The Health Foundation’s Adam Briggs warned that there were multiple factors linked to obesity, and that socioeconomic drivers such as poverty and unemployment had to be addressed, as well as the slashing of public health budgets for local authorities.
Briggs added: "There is little sign of policies that will address the root causes of obesity."
Public Health England’s chief nutritionist Dr Alison Tedstone said that the strategy would help “tip the scales on obesity”, while chair of the British Medical Association's Board of Science Professor Dame Parveen Kumar said the strategy should be “actioned as quickly as possible, with the promised expansion of NHS services delivered in full, with adequate resources and funding, to ensure that those struggling with their weight can get the support they need and deserve.”