The United Kingdom is again roiled in a debate over how far to go in restricting advertising and other promotions for unhealthy food.
In a statement July 27, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced anti-obesity measures that include a ban on advertisements after 9 p.m. for foods or beverages that are high in fat, salt or sugar. Also banned would be buy-one-get-one deals for unhealthy products. Restaurants would have to list calorie counts on menus. Additional measures under consideration include changes to the front-of-pack nutrition labeling and requiring calorie counts for alcohol.
Johnson decided that action needs to be taken on obesity after his recent experience of being hospitalized with COVID-19. He said in an interview that his bout with the disease moved him away from what he called his “libertarian stance on obesity” and that improved fitness will help the British cope with the disease better.
Food industry advocates are criticizing the standards as going too far. They won’t cut calorie consumption significantly and they’ll discourage processors from bringing out healthier versions of products, said the head of the Food and Drink Federation.
Consumer advocates, for their part, say the standards don’t go far enough. They regret that a tax on soft drinks won’t be extended to unhealthy foods, and that processors will not be given mandatory limits for fat, salt or sugar.
Britain has moved in fits and starts when it comes to regulating unhealthy foods. Similar proposals in 2016 by then-Prime Minister David Cameron were watered down by his successor, Theresa May; she then changed her mind, only to see her proposals abandoned by Johnson once he took office.