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U.K. plans to fight obesity with ad bans, calorie labels


The U.K. proposed strict new limits on junk food advertising as ministers seek to control the country's growing obesity problem, which has been identified as a factor in coronavirus deaths.

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Plans include banning TV and online advertising of foods high in fat, sugar or salt before 9 p.m., the Department for Health and Social Care said Monday. Advertisers and the food and drink industry slammed the proposals, saying they'd push up prices and threaten jobs.

"Losing weight is hard, but with some small changes we can all feel fitter and healthier," Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement. "If we all do our bit, we can reduce our health risks."

The curbs mark a change of tack for Johnson, who's previously complained about "nanny state" meddling in the lives of ordinary people. But the pandemic and his own hospitalization in April persuaded him of the need to act on obesity.

Almost two-thirds of British adults are overweight and one in three children leave primary school weighing too much, according to the health department. Being too heavy also puts people at greater risk from coronavirus and places additional strain on the National Health Service.

The government will also end buy-one-get-one-free promotions on sugary foods and require calorie labels on more products in stores as well as in restaurants. It's starting a consultation on putting calorie counts on alcoholic beverages. Ministers said they'll also look at whether the possibility of imposing a blanket ban on junk food advertising online, before introducing the new laws.

The restrictions will pile more pressure on food, retail, advertising and media industries already suffering from the economic lockdown imposed to control the coronavirus pandemic, with thousands of jobs under threat.

The Food and Drink Federation slammed the proposals, saying they'll have a negligible effect on reducing calorie consumption while pushing up prices for consumers and threatening jobs. It said the measures could add 600 pounds ($770) a year to the cost of a typical family's grocery shopping.

"It is extraordinary that the government is proposing a ban on promotions of food and drink in retail at such a precarious economic time," FDF Chief Operating Officer Tim Rycroft said in a statement. "At the heart of this program are old and discredited policies that will raise prices, limit choice and hit two of the U.K.'s most successful industries."

The Incorporated Society of British Advertisers called the announcement a "slap in the face" that "will cost families more at the checkout."

The ISBA has previously estimated a TV watershed on junk food adverts could cost the economy more than a billion pounds. That's based on the government's pre-pandemic estimate that it would cost the advertising industry 171 million pounds, and ISBA's estimate that every pound spent on advertising benefits the economy to the tune of 6 pounds.

But health campaigners said the government should have gone further.

"It's a missed opportunity that mandatory targets for reformulation i.e. removing unnecessary calories, sugar and salt from products have been excluded," Katharine Jenner, Campaign Director at Action on Sugar and Action on Salt, said in a statement.

The new policies will mean "businesses will be responsible and we may well see ingredients in food changing in order to make them healthier," Health Minister Helen Whately told the BBC on Monday.

Britain has a tax on sugar to try and reduce obesity levels, and there are already restrictions on how unhealthy foods are targeted at children. Since 2007, broadcasters cannot advertise products such as confectionery during TV programs that might be watched by children. There are similar restrictions for advertising online, in print and in cinemas.

Published : July 28, 2020

By : Syndication Washington Post, Bloomberg · Alex Morales, Brian Swint · WORLD, EUROPE