Government plays politics with children’s health

16 May 2022
Boris Johnson has delayed plans to ban promotions and adverts for unhealthy food by at least a year, in a move thought to appease backbench Tories.

Only a few weeks ago, royal assent was given to a new health bill, which included a ban on junk food promotions in shops, and junk food ads online and before 9pm on TV. We’re staggered that the government has already U-turned on these plans, announcing they will delay the reform for at least a year.

The regressive decision follows decades of campaigning and flies in the face of evidence. An evaluation earlier this year found that Transport for London’s junk food ad ban has led to Londoners eating less junk food. Boris Johnson himself claimed these policies would protect children and reduce the rates of obesity-related diseases.

The government’s arguments seem ill-thought out, as they claim this move is a response to the cost of living crisis. Offers such as ‘buy one get one free’ actually lead to consumers spending more on unhealthy food, rather saving moneywhich is precisely why businesses make such offers - to encourage spending.

It’s also worth noting the reforms followed stringent definitions of what foods are unhealthy to allow businesses to run promotions on healthy food, something which would be far more helpful during a cost of living crisis as we know healthy foods are often more expensive.

The government has set ambitious aims to halve childhood obesity by 2030. Child health inequalities have only worsened over recent years; one in four children leave primary school with obesity, and the rates are twice as high in poorer areas than wealthier. Number 10 needs to do all it can to meet these aims and safeguard our children’s health, rather than succumbing to ill-informed political demands from backbenchers, as reported in the Times.

We join fellow campaigners and experts in children’s health in calling on the government to be bold when it comes to protecting the health of the next generation. Fulfilling this policy promise would be a meaningful step towards addressing the rise in obesity, which Johnson had claimed was personally important following his hospitalisation with Covid-19. We implore him to lead the way in protecting our children’s health, by doing the right thing and pushing on with the proposals.