Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

Sugar tax extension needed to make junk food crackdown work, Boris Johnson warned

Ban on advertising before 9pm watershed, plus warnings on labels, branded too weak for 'national emergency'

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Friday 24 July 2020 10:07 BST
National Obesity Forum says sugar tax needed in junk food crackdown

A refusal to slap a sugar tax on more fattening products will fatally undermine a new crackdown on junk food, Boris Johnson has been warned.

The prime minister – who once vowed to fight any curbs on unhealthy foods – is now set to propose a ban on advertising them online and before the watershed at 9pm.

The package, to be unveiled as early as next week, will also push for calorie counts on restaurant and takeaway menus, with labels to identify products that are high in sugar.

But the National Obesity Forum has accused him of ignoring the warnings of his own health chiefs that obesity is “a national emergency” – and that an extension of the sugar tax is needed.

Tam Fry, the group’s chairman, said the existing levy on drinks, introduced in April 2018, had been “extremely successful”, driving down the sugar consumed by about 28 per cent.

“That is very, very hard evidence that levies on industry, as opposed to taxing the people at the shop, is the way to go,” he said.

“There are many products which would work for this kind of levy.”

Mr Fry said the evidence that an advertising ban would cut junk food consumption was “a bit scanty”, saying of the measures proposed: “It’s not going to be enough, but it’s very welcome so far.”

Helen Whateley, the health minister, refused to discuss why a sugar tax extension appeared to have been ruled out, while admitting she was “well aware of the argument”.

Mr Johnson has already given ground after the first leak of the long-promised obesity strategy did not include an advertising ban.

TV broadcasters have previously protested that the measure would cost them more than £200m in revenues annually.

But Mr Johnson has acknowledged abandoning his “libertarian stance on obesity”, after his intensive care battle with coronavirus, which he linked to being overweight.

Britain is the second fattest European nation after Malta, he told MPs this week, which scientists believe has inflated the very high number of deaths from the virus.

But last October’s report by Sally Davies, the-then chief medical officer, urged ministers to go much further to “put children’s health before companies’ profits”.

It called for a ban on eating and drinking on public transport, as well as VAT hikes on junk foods high in salt, sugar or fat – possibly including putting them under plain packaging.

“Today’s children are drowning in a flood of unhealthy food and drink options, compounded by insufficient opportunities for being active,” Dame Sally warned.

In England, a fifth of children entering secondary school are obese – and almost one in ten of reception age children. Two thirds of adults are overweight.

A pre-watershed ban for TV can be introduced relatively simply through a direction to Ofcom, the broadcast regulator, but restrictions online would require legislation and take longer to implement.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in