Plain packaging policy needed for unhealthy food and drink, says IPPR

Sweets, crisps and sugary drinks need to be put on a level playing-field with fruit and vegetables if the UK is to win the battle against preventable diseases, according to the Institute for Public Policy Research.

The IPPR report, Ending the Blame Game: The case for a new approach to public health and prevention, identifies smoking, obesity and alcohol and substance abuse as three main contributors to preventable disease.

A number of radical measures are needed, the think tank said, given progress in reducing the impact of preventable disease on public health has stalled since 2012.

For a start, unhealthy snacks and beverages should be wrapped in plain packaging. IPPR also called for a ban on TV advertising for fast food, soft drinks, confectionery and other processed food before the 9pm “watershed”, with tighter regulation of advertising in public spaces.

The current levy on sugar-sweetened drinks should also be extended to cakes, confectionery and other sweetened drinks, with the proceeds invested in physical education and local sports facilities.

“It’s time to end the pro-obesity supermarkets by putting fruit and veg on a level playing field with crisps and confectionary,” said IPPR director Tom Kibasi. “Plain packaging would help us all to make better choices and reduce the hassle of ‘pester power’ for busy parents.” 

Dame Sally Davies, the chief medical officer for England, welcomed the plain packaging proposal: “It has potential to be part of the solution to the obesity crisis.”

Davies has just been commissioned to conduct a review of policies that will help the government meet its target to halve levels of childhood obesity by 2030. Last week, she appeared to offer her support for a tax on unhealthy food, but this was played down by the Department of Health.

IPPR also suggested the legal smoking age should be raised to 21, emulating parts of the US that found it led to a greater decline in youth smoking. This would help create a “smoke-free generation”.

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