Fresh crackdown on junk food gets green light in post-Covid obesity war – how it will affect you

A FRESH crackdown on junk food has got the green light today.

The Government's has waged a post-Covid war on obesity, designed to make Britain healthier.

But it will mean you see less adverts for your favourite guilty pleasures, such as sausage rolls, pasties and fish fingers.

Adverts for junk food will be banned on TV before 9pm – although firms can still

Public Health Minister, Jo Churchill, said: “We are committed to improving the health of our children and tackling obesity. The content youngsters see can have an impact on the choices they make and habits they form.

"With children spending more time online it is vital we act to protect them from unhealthy advertising.

“These measures form another key part of our strategy to get the nation fitter and healthier by giving them the chance to make more informed decisions when it comes to food.

"We need to take urgent action to level up health inequalities. This action on advertising will help to wipe billions off the national calorie count and give our children a fair chance of a healthy lifestyle.”

Ads for junk food that have high fat, salt and sugar content will be restricted from April 2022.

Online ads will also be hit with strict rules – such only paid-for advertising allowed on brand's own blogs, website, app or social media page.

What will the new rules be?

The watershed will apply from 9.00pm to 5.30am, meaning HFSS adverts can only be shown during these times.

In order to keep the restrictions proportional, these new regulations will apply to food and drink products of most concern to childhood obesity and will ensure the healthiest in each category will be able to continue to advertise.

This approach means foods such as honey, olive oil, avocados and marmite are excluded from the restrictions.

The restrictions will apply to all businesses with 250 or more employees that make and/or sell HFSS products, meaning small and medium businesses will be able to continue advertising.

The government recognises these companies may be some of the hardest hit by the pandemic and rely on online media as the sole way to communicate with their customers. 

Online restrictions will be limited to paid-for advertising, ensuring brands can continue to advertise within ‘owned media’ spaces online; such as a brand's own blog, website, app or social media page.

The Department of Health said TV and online restrictions could remove up to 7.2 billion calories from kid's diets per year in the UK.

Over the coming years, this could reduce the number of obese children by more than 20,000.

One in six adults and more than one in three kids aged ten to 11 are overweight – with obesity a large risk factor in fighting the virus.

The number of kids admitted to hospital for obesity and related health conditions has quadrupled in the last yen years.

Commenting on the plans, Dr Charmaine Griffiths, chief executive of the British Heart Foundation said: “These plans are a bold and very positive step forward in protecting children from being inundated with junk food advertising.

"Introducing a 9pm TV watershed for junk food adverts and also further restrictions for online advertising is one important part in building a more healthy environment where the healthy option is the easy option."

But critics were left less than happy with the junk food overhaul.

With children spending more time online it is vital we act to protect them from unhealthy advertising.

The FDF's Chief Scientific Officer, Kate Halliwell, said: "We are disappointed that the Government continues to press ahead with headline chasing policies which will undermine existing Government policies, principally the reformulation programmes to reduce calories, sugars, salt and portion sizes.
“The proposals would make it difficult to advertise many products that have been carefully reformulated or created in smaller portions in-line with the Government’s own targets; for example, Cadbury would not be able to advertise their 30 per cent reduced sugar Dairy Milk."

Last month the Queen said, as she opened Parliament: "Measures will be brought forward to support the health and wellbeing of the nation, including to tackle obesity and improve mental health.

"We are also offering greater support through GPs, so that anyone with obesity can get support from their GP and referrals to weight management services."

The government estimates there were around 2.9 billion child HFSS TV impacts and 11 billion impressions online – defined as an individual seeing a single advert one time – in the UK in 2019.

Obesity is linked to a reduction in life expectancy and is a risk factor for lots of chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, cancers and mental health issues.

Chris Holmes, Founder of SMASH and former KFC director, said: "The Government has one thing right – we need to change the food environment, but the current strategy has a fatal flaw – the businesses that control the food environment are not engaged in this process, and as a result, strategies like this ban on junk food ads will fail to move the needle.

“There is a place for regulation, but nothing is as powerful as consumer demand in shaping industry trends. We need to use the carrot and the stick to incentivise food brands to make products healthier and put marketing spend behind them, so that they are commercially viable for business. 

We need to shift the narrative away from “ban the bad”, and begin also to “promote the good”.

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