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Boris Johnson moves to ban junk food discount deals to fight obesity

Buy one, get one free offers on unhealthy products set to go – but campaigners urge prime minister to also bring in 9pm watershed on junk food advertising

Adam Forrest
Friday 10 July 2020 15:33 BST
Boris Johnson is said to have 'changed his mind' on need for state intervention
Boris Johnson is said to have 'changed his mind' on need for state intervention (Reuters)

Boris Johnson’s government is expected to restrict supermarkets from offering discount deals on junk food as part of his promised anti-obesity drive.

New restrictions will see supermarkets banned from buy one, get one free offers on unhealthy products or promoting sweets and chocolate at the end of aisles, according to reports.

Ministers are also thought to be considering plans to bring in compulsory calorie counts on restaurant and takeaway menus under new proposals, first published in The Times.

The moves could put the prime minister at odds with free marketeers in the Conservative Party, but Mr Johnson is said to believe tough steps are now necessary to address the UK’s obesity problem – thought to be a key factor in the severity of the country’s coronavirus outbreak.

Anti-obesity campaigners welcomed the crackdown on discount deals, but urged the government to go further and introduce a 9pm watershed on junk food advertising.

“A wealth of evidence shows that there is a clear link between food advertising and the food children choose,” said a spokesperson for the charity Action on Sugar.

“Advertising influences how much children eat – we need restrictions on promotions and advertising.”

“We will not stop asking for a 9pm advertising watershed too,” said the Children’s Food Campaign.

Anti-obesity groups have also criticised the government’s decision not to exclude fast food outlets from the half-price dining scheme in August. The National Obesity Forum said it was “a green light to promote any old junk [food] menu”.

The prime minister had previously declared himself “very libertarian” on food choices and dismissed the idea of “sin taxes” in changing behaviour.

But his own hospitalisation from Covid-19 appears to have convinced him that some state intervention is needed. He reportedly told advisers in May: “I have changed my mind on this.”

However, Mr Johnson is said to remain uncertain about banning junk food advertising before 9pm – an idea still strongly opposed by food manufacturers, advertising agencies and broadcasters.

Public Health England is planning a fitness and healthy-eating campaign to encourage widespread lifestyle changes following the first wave of Covid-19.

England’s deputy chief medical officer, Dr Jenny Harries, has said that lockdown was an opportunity to get “super fit” ahead of a potential second wave of the coronavirus this winter.

“Obesity is actually problematic and that’s one of the things that we could do something about,” she said last week.

A diet rich in fruit, vegetables and whole grains is linked to a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, according to two new studies published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) this week.

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