Around 100 health campaigners have called on the prime minister to follow through on plans to remove junk food adverts from online platforms and social media amid reports that the policy is due to be axed.
The Sun recently reported that a proposed ban was to be scrapped, quoting government insiders as saying its impact would be disproportionate on businesses.
In response, UK health and children’s organisations including Sustain and the Children’s Health Campaign, along with academic experts and individual campaigners, sent a letter to Boris Johnson warning of the potential risks of undermining his new flagship obesity strategy.
They encouraged him “to forge ahead with landmark proposals to end almost all unhealthy food and drink adverts online, which will protect children from the influence of junk food marketing”.
In its obesity strategy, published last July, the government pledged to consult on how it would introduce a total restriction on advertising products high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) online. A consultation was subsequently published in November.
Signatories to the letter said that, as the UK emerges from a second wave of covid-19, “we are now at a crossroads, where we can either build on what we have learnt from the pandemic or go back to the status quo where poor diet and related ill-health is increasingly the norm and will pose even greater risks for population health and resilience in the future”.
They noted that restrictions on advertising have been backed by the health select committee of MPs and was welcomed in part one of Henry Dimbleby’s national food strategy.
Research from the Obesity Health Alliance suggests ending junk food adverts online could lead to children eating 2.9 million fewer chocolate biscuits every week.
The British Takeaway Campaign, however, has previously argued that if social media channels of independent takeaways are in scope of the legislation, thousands of small businesses will be prevented from communicating with their customers through their primary channel.