Keeping Score as Leading Experts Evaluate Progress of the Obesity Prevention Plans and Urge the Government to Ban Junk Food Ads Before 9pm
Click to view our letter to the Prime Minister - CASSH Letter to Prime Minister [PDF 138KB]
Click to view our Scorecard 2020: The road to preventing obesity - CASSH Scorecard 2020: The road to preventing obesity [PDF 224KB]
Click to view the Media Coverage
Click to download the Scorecard 2020 [PDF 342KB]
Ahead of Boris Johnson’s imminent plans to address obesity in the UK, which has been identified as a major risk factor in those impacted by coronavirus (1), Action on Sugar, Action on Salt and 47 other health charities and leading researchers representing both the treatment and prevention of obesity, are today urging the Prime Minister to implement ALL outstanding recommendations previously committed to as part of an evidence-based package in Chapters 1, 2 and 3 of the Government’s childhood obesity prevention plan (2) - including the vital no showing of junk food ads before 9pm.
According to the traffic light coloured Scorecard 2020: The road to preventing obesity, (compiled by Action on Sugar and Action on Salt) (3), which analyses Government Commitment vs Progress of the three chapters of the childhood obesity plan – it’s evident that many of the recommendations aimed at both reducing inequalities and improving the lives of both children and adults living with obesity, such as calorie reduction and taxation of unhealthy foods, have disappointingly been side lined and are effectively ‘stuck at the traffic lights’.
However, despite ‘sources’ indicating that many of these core recommendations are now being reconsidered as part of the Government’s NEW obesity strategy (Chapter 4) (4) – a plan that excludes restrictions on junk food marketing and advertising across all media platforms - including live TV, TV on demand, radio, online, social media, apps, in-game, cinema, digital outdoor advertising such as billboards - will NOT deliver the necessary impact on public health, the experts warn. Treating and preventing obesity requires a raft of measures - singular actions cannot solve the problem and allow far too many loopholes.
Food and drinks that are high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) should not be permitted to advertise before 9pm. Following a Government consultation which closed in June 2019 and is yet to be implemented, strong, albeit cautious, evidence was presented on the need to restrict junk food advertising (5). The consultation demonstrated that this policy will:
- Likely to benefit adults as well as children due to reduced exposure and pester power (which significantly influences purchasing decisions)
- Have a mutual impact for BAME communities (as policy does not differentiate race)
- Have an increased benefit for the more socially deprived (6)
- Encourage reformulation by the food and drink industry, and improve nutritional quality of their foods, so that their products become healthy enough to advertise before 9pm
Mhairi Brown, Policy and Public Affairs Manager at Action on Sugar and Salt, says: “In order for the Prime Minister’s new obesity plan to be effective and change the health trajectory of future generations, a robust and joined up policy package is required rather than a pick and mix of measures which allow loopholes to be exploited. With inequalities once again brought to the forefront as a result of COVID-19, Mr Johnson has a golden opportunity to ensure that lessons learned during the pandemic are translated to equitable access to health for all.”
Graham MacGregor, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine and Chair of Action on Sugar and Salt, says: “This is the Government’s golden opportunity to fully implement an obesity plan here in the UK – four years after Chapter 1 was officially published. Since then, we’ve seen far more lengthy consultation processes rather than direct action which now must change. If we can address obesity and care for the health of our population, we will become more resistant to life threatening diseases like COVID-19 in the future.”
Katharine Jenner, Campaign Director at Action on Sugar and Salt, says: “Marketeers had the opportunity to voluntarily cease unhealthy food and drink advertising during this pandemic, yet they continued to pump out adverts for fast food delivery companies, chocolates, sweets and more. In 2019, for over 80% of the ‘less healthy’ products advertised before 9pm there was a healthier alternative within the same company that could have been promoted instead (7). The time has now passed for being soft on industries that ‘feed’ into the obesity crisis and profit from a culture of encouraging lazing, gazing and grazing.”
Barbara Crowther, Children's Food Campaign Coordinator, says: "The Government already has many of the necessary ingredients for a new recipe to tackle obesity and build a healthier food environment for our children. However, launching an obesity plan without comprehensive 9pm watershed on TV and online advertising and tightening marketing and promotional regulations, would be like trying to bake bread without yeast or leaven. It would simply fall flat. There has never been a more important time for the Government to take the bold, courageous action it has long promised, so that today's children grow up healthier, happier and more resilient in the fact of any future disease or risk."
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Notes to editors:
Action on Sugar is a group of specialists concerned with sugar and its effects on health. It is successfully working to reach a consensus with the food industry and Government over the harmful effects of a high sugar diet, and bring about a reduction in the amount of sugar in food and drink products.
Action on Salt is a group concerned with salt and its effects on health, supported by 23 expert scientific members. Action on Salt is successfully working to reach a consensus with the food industry and Government over the harmful effects of a high salt diet, and bring about a reduction in the amount of salt in processed foods as well as salt added to cooking, and at the table.
(1) Tan Monique, He Feng J, MacGregor Graham A. Obesity and covid-19: the role of the food industry BMJ 2020; 369 :m2237
(2) The government’s Childhood Obesity Plan was released in 2016, with commitments designed to improve the health of both children and adults. Subsequent chapters were published in 2018 and 2019.
(3) Action on Salt and Action on Sugar. Scorecard 202: The road to preventing obesity. Available: http://www.actiononsugar.org/news-centre/press-releases/2020/
(7) Cancer Research UK research published in The Grocer 18 July 2019: https://www.thegrocer.co.uk/health/brands-urgedto-advertise-healthier-alternatives-to-hfss-food/595715.article