Prime minster Boris Johnson has said the government needed to be ‘flexible’ on delaying the HFSS anti-obesity restrictions as Jamie Oliver led his ‘What an Eton Mess’ protest outside Downing Street.
The UK government is delaying the restrictions on multibuy deals and advertising foods high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) for a year – including buy one get one free (BOGOF), ‘3 for 2’, and restricting free refills for soft drinks – following an ‘unprecedented’ squeeze on living standards.
A ban on TV adverts for HFSS products before the 9pm watershed and on paid-for adverts online has also been delayed to January 2024, although restrictions on where HFSS foods can be placed in-store will still go ahead in October 2022 as planned
The Prime Minister spoke about the delay during a visit to Wales, saying: “We understand the vital importance of tackling obesity, it costs the NHS huge sums of money.
“Now, there are lots of things you’ve got to focus on, including diet, eating less, eating less is the most important thing, but there are some things at the moment where we think they make very little difference to obesity.
“They can affect people’s weekly outgoings, people’s budgets, and at this particular time, if people can save on their food bills with some offers, then I think we’ve just got to be flexible while continuing to tackle obesity.”
At the same time, celebrity chef and healthy food campaigner Jamie Oliver led his ‘What an Eton Mess’ protest outside Downing Street, campaigning against the U-turn in the Government’s anti-obesity policy.
Oliver praised the actions of both Tesco and Sainsbury’s, which have pledged to follow the original timeline set out for the HFSS policy.
“They’ve set the tone and I’m sure others will follow,” he said.
“We want to put child health first, the strategy was looking world-class and now it doesn’t. It’s our job to put it all back together again and make sure that we can build a better future for our kids.”
Supermarket giants Tesco and Sainsbury’s have said they will commit to the original government deadlines, while also offering more discounts on healthier products.
Tesco has said it will remove multi-buy promotions on HFSS products by the end of October, while Sainsbury’s has already axed multi-buy offers after changing its promotion strategy six years ago. It also said it remains ‘committed’ to meeting the government’s original timelines restricting HFSS promotions and urges other retailers and supermarkets to do the same.
Tesco chief customer officer Alessandra Bellini said: “We will always make sure our products are competitively priced, but we can’t stop there.
“Obesity levels are rising among adults and children and the health of our nation must also be at the top of our agenda.”
Mark Given, chief marketing officer at Sainsbury’s, said the supermarket is “dedicated to making healthy choices more affordable”, pointing out that over the last year nearly 60% of its promotions were on healthier or ‘better for you’ choices.
“We know our customers in communities across the country are facing a cost-of-living crisis and want to continue to provide healthy, nutritious food for their families,” he said.
“We are committed to continuing to follow the Government’s original HFSS promotional timelines and call on the rest of the industry to do the same.”
Kate Oldridge-Turner, head of policy and public affairs at World Cancer Research Fund, said: “The move by Tesco and Sainsbury’s to enable their customers to access nutritious and affordable food is welcome and it’s great that some retailers recognise the crucial role they play in providing our nation with healthy diets.
“It’s encouraging to see the tide of opposition against the government’s delay on restricting BOGOF (buy-one-get-one-free) deals swelling and the next step should be stopping all price promotions on unhealthy foods.
“Hopefully, government will reverse its decision to hold off on these important restrictions, finally putting the health of the nation’s children first.”