Unhealthy foods targeted and checkout snacks to be banned in obesity crackdown

Video report by ITV News Correspondent Damon Green

Unhealthy snacks will be banned at shop checkouts and junk food adverts will not be allowed on TV before 9pm, the prime minister is set to announce in bid to tackle the UK's obesity issue.

Boris Johnson has revealed already how his own brush with Covid-19, which saw him require intensive care in April, convinced him of the need to tackle Britain’s bulging waistlines.

On Monday, he will set out the details of the “Better Health” campaign as he looks to tackle the country’s obesity problem.#

"Buy one, get one free" offers on fattening products are set to be outlawed in the raid on unhealthy eating and supermarkets will be banned from tempting shoppers with unhealthy snacks at checkouts and store entrances.

The rule changes come just one year after the prime minister said he was keep to end the "continuing creep of the nanny state", which he said "seems to me to clobber those who can least afford it".

Other changes include restaurants having to display the calories contained in items on menus and there will be a consultation into doing the same for any alcohol sold.

As part of the programme, the NHS weight loss services is to be expanded, while GPs will be encouraged to prescribe bike rides, with patients in pilot areas to be given access to bikes.

GPs will be able to prescribe cycling to overweight patients Credit: Nick Ansell/PA

The plan comes as evidence has begun to mount linking excess weight with a higher risk of severe illness from coronavirus.

A Public Health England (PHE) study published on Saturday discovered that being classed as medically obese increased the risk of death from coronavirus by 40%.

In a video filmed by Number 10 and released on his Twitter account, Boris Johnson admitted he was “too fat” when he was struck down by coronavirus.

  • Nina Hossain hears from those in those in the industry on their reaction to the news:

Marking the launch of the obesity strategy, the prime minister said he struggled with his weight but had lost at least a stone.

“Like many people I struggle with my weight, I go up and down, but since I recovered from coronavirus I have been steadily building up my fitness.”

Mr Johnson, seen walking his dog Dilyn in the video, said: “When I went in to ICU, when I was really ill, I was way overweight.”

The PM added that by maintaining a healthy weight, you'll "protect your health", thereby "you'll protect the NHS".

The highly interventionist approach marks a U-turn for Mr Johnson, who until recently has been a vocal opponent of “sin taxes” and perceived “nannying” by the state.

After the prime minister's comments were put to Health Minister Helen Whately, she defended the policy banning buy one, get one free offers, saying "they don't help the people that you might suggest that they help".

"What the offers result in happening is people buying food that they didn't intend to buy, often food that they didn't need, spending more, and there's more wastage as a result."

Mr Johnson has agreed to a plan that he thinks can both save the NHS time and money and also could help reduce the number of Covid-19 deaths in a possible second wave of infections.

Two-thirds (63%) of UK adults are above a healthy weight, with 36% overweight and 28% obese, according to Government data.

One in three children aged 10 to 11 are overweight or obese, and children living with obesity are five times more likely to become obese adults.

Health Secretary Matthew Hancock said: “Everyone knows how hard losing weight can be so we are taking bold action to help everyone who needs it.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said it can be hard to lose weight Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA

“When you’re shopping for your family or out with friends, it’s only fair that you are given the right information about the food you’re eating to help people to make good decisions.

“To help support people we need to reduce unhelpful influences like promotions and adverts that affect what you buy and what you eat.”

The government will introduce new laws to ban the advertising of food high in fat, sugar or salt on television and online before 9pm and ministers will also hold a consultation on whether the internet ban should apply at all times of day.

Analysis published by Cancer Research UK from September 2019 showed that almost half of all food adverts shown over the month on ITV1, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Sky One were for products high in fat, sugar and salt, rising to almost 60% during the 6pm to 9pm slot when children’s viewing peaks.

Further legislation will restrict the promotion of junk food, including “buy one, get one free” offers.

There will also be a ban on chocolate bars and sweets being placed in prominent locations in stores, such as at checkouts and entrances, while supermarket bosses will be encouraged to offer more discounts on fruit and vegetables.

The UK spends more on promotional products than any other European country, according to the Department of Health.

Calorie labelling measures will also require large restaurants, cafes and takeaways with more than 250 employees to add calorie labels to the food they sell and a consultation will be launched to determine whether similar guidance is required on alcohol.

Boris Johnson has said his own brush with Covid-19 convinced him of the need to tackle Britain’s bulging waistlines Credit: PA

Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, which will lead the Better Health campaign, said: “These plans are ambitious and rightly so.

“Tackling obesity will help prevent serious illness and save lives.

“The main reason we put on weight is because of what we eat and drink, but being more active is important too.

“Making healthier choices easier and fairer for everyone, and ensuring the right support is there for those who need it, is critical in tackling obesity.”

The Obesity Health Alliance, a coalition of more than 40 leading health organisations, medical royal colleges and campaign groups, praised the targeting of promotional offers.

The alliance’s lead, Caroline Cerny, said: “We are delighted the Government has recognised the role that the relentless marketing and promotion of unhealthy food plays in driving ill-health.”

Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: “This is a landmark day for the nation’s health.

“Being overweight or obese puts people at risk of many diseases, including 13 different types of cancer, and disproportionately affects people from poorer backgrounds so the plan will hugely help to level-up the country and build a healthier population.”

However, not everyone was supportive of the plans.

Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said that while the measures were "welcome" they are "long overdue".

He added more needs to be done to tackle the causes of poor health and obesity.

"There's a direct correlation with poverty and with inequality," Mr Thomas-Symonds said.

"The poorer you are the greater proportion of your income you spend on food, and it can often be less nutritious food because it's cheaper.

"You need to be tackling the underlying causes of poverty and you need to look at public health and the budgets of local councils to tackle this in a comprehensive way.

"So while we welcome some of the measures the government has put forward, they aren't doing enough."