Boris Johnson scraps ban on TV adverts for junk food ‘to help poorer families’

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Junk Food - Matt Cardy/Getty Images
Junk Food - Matt Cardy/Getty Images

A ban on junk food advertising has been scrapped by the Government as part of measures to help shoppers afford cheap meals.

Ministers on Friday pushed back an incoming pre-9pm ban on television adverts for "buy-one-get-one-free" deals and unhealthy snacks amid the cost of living crisis, following cuts to the UK’s healthy living policies that were brought in during the pandemic.

The Government will delay its ban on multi-buy deals on foods and drinks high in fat, salt, or sugar – including restrictions on free refills for soft drinks – until October next year. Meanwhile, the ban on television adverts will now only come into force in January 2024.

It comes after Boris Johnson blamed his weight for becoming seriously ill when he caught Covid-19 in 2020, which saw him admitted to intensive care and put on oxygen.

'Deadly wake-up call'

Mr Johnson said later that year that he was "too fat", and ministers urged Britons to see the pandemic as a "deadly wake-up call" about obesity levels after research found it can almost double the risk of dying from the disease.

This prompted the Prime Minister to announce an obesity strategy, which included banning TV advertising of unhealthy food before 9pm and multi-buy deals on junk food. It came alongside an army of "weight loss coaches" at GP surgeries to persuade people to live healthier lives.

A year later Mr Johnson announced a Government-backed rewards programme for families switching to healthier food and exercising.

Now, immersed in the cost of living crisis and the economic repercussions of the conflict in Ukraine, the Government is scaling back its plans.

The Telegraph reported that £100 million in funding for fitness coaches and weight loss apps had been scrapped, meaning the Department of Health and Social Care has to fund it from existing budgets.

'Incredibly disappointing and short-sighted'

Commenting on the developments, Prof Rachel Batterham, the special adviser on obesity at the Royal College of Physicians, said the move was "incredibly disappointing and short-sighted".

"Many have cited the cost of living crisis as a reason to keep buy-one-get-one-free deals, but research is clear they do not save us money - they simply encourage us to spend more of it," she said.

"And delaying the 9pm watershed for advertising unhealthy foods will leave our children vulnerable to developing long-term unhealthy eating habits."

Almost a third (28 per cent) of the adult population in England is obese, and more than a third (36 per cent) are overweight, estimates suggest.

Maggie Throup, the public health minister, said: "We’re committed to doing everything we can to help people live healthier lives.

"Pausing restrictions on deals like buy-one-get-one-free will allow us to understand its impact on consumers in light of an unprecedented global economic situation."

Julia Lopez, the media, data and digital minister, added: "We have listened to the concerns which have been raised and will not be bringing in restrictions on junk food advertising until confident that the time is right."

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