Obesity rules delayed, angering health campaigners

Restrictions on multibuy deals and advertising of foods high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) are to be delayed for a year, the government has confirmed. Ministers blamed the “unprecedented global economic situation”. 

Shelving the plans would give industry more time to prepare and allow the government to review and monitor the impact of the restrictions on multibuy deals for unhealthy food and drinks, they said.

The restrictions banning HFSS adverts on TV before 9pm and paid-for adverts online will also be paused for a year, meaning they come into force January 2024. This is due to a delay to the Health and Care Bill receiving Royal Assent and again cut industry some slack.

Rules limiting the location of unhealthy foods in shops will go ahead as planned in October.

The Food and Drink Federation welcomed the government’s “pragmatism”, but campaigners reacted angrily to the news. 

Professor Graham MacGregor, Professor of cardiovascular medicine at Queen Mary University of London and chair of Action on Sugar and Action on Salt, said these were flagship policies and would address obesity “in a meaningful way”. He said Johnson had “given in to his own MPs, and an aggressive food industry who, ironically, were starting to comply with these new policies”.

Sharon Bligh, healthier lives director at the Consumer Goods Forum, urged food businesses not to wait around for the regulations (some reports suggested they could be permanently shelved). “[…] responsible retailers and food manufacturers must use their influence to ensure that healthier decisions become easier and incentivised for people everywhere,” she said. 

Meanwhile, analysts at GlobalData this week suggested foodservice businesses could use healthy options as a way of tackling rising prices. More than half of Brits (53%) are extremely or quite concerned about their personal financial situation.

Foodservice businesses could suffer as price hikes see people plan and cook meals more regularly at home, explained GlobalData’s Hannah Cleland on the back of new sales results from Greggs. However, there is an opportunity to “change the narrative. Smaller portion sizes when marketed effectively can be positioned as ‘better-for-you’ because they immediately cut the calories. With a creative spin, Greggs may be able to cash in on demand for convenient, yet healthy breakfast and lunch options,” she added.

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