Banning junk food advertising was today branded a ‘slap in the face’ for Britain’s food and drink industry after its hard work to keep the nation fed during the coronavirus pandemic.
Producers and advertising industry figures warned that jobs could be at risk as it was revealed Boris Johnson is considering taking drastic steps to curb the UK’s obesity problem.
Ministers are said to support moves to ban junk food adverts from TV before the 9pm watershed and outlaw online ads altogether.
Retail and advertising executives have been told the plans will include a ban on TV ads for junk food such as burgers and chocolate before 9pm. A ban on online adverts is also expected, as are restrictions on buy-one-get-one-free supermarket deals.
But the industry hit back at the plans, saying the move was not necessary.
Tim Rycroft, chief operating officer of the Food and Drink Federation, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘If these rumours are true the Government is about to deliver a slap in the face to the food industry which has worked so heroically over the last four months to keep the nation fed at some considerable risk to itself.
The Prime Minister (pictured today at a London medical centre) is set to unveil a new anti-obesity strategy next week after being warned that his weight may have contributed to his brush with death when he contracted coronavirus this year
Stephen Woodford (right), chief executive of the Advertising Association, said the UK already had the ‘the strictest rules in the world on advertising’ high fat and salty foods. And Tam Fry (left), of the National Obesity Forum, told the BBC’s Today Programme Boris Johnson’s ‘|experience in St Thomas’s Hospital was a real game changer’
Boris Johnson in his running gear in Downing Street in May. He is said to have been shocked by the impact his weight had on his fight with coronavirus
PM’s coronavirus journey from food freedom champion to obesity clampdown
Mr Johnson was long a libertarian on eating and drinking, speaking out against efforts by Jamie Oliver to reform school meals.
But he appears to have undergone a more interventionalist conversion since his illness in the spring.
He first hit the headline son the subject in 2006 when he lashed out at Jamie Oliver over the celebrity chef’s attempts to reform school meals.
Then a junior shadow minister he garnered headlines by criticising Mr Oliver’s efforts at one school which resulted in parents giving their children pies through the fence.
At a fringe event at the 2006 Conservative Party conference he told a fringe event: ‘if I was in charge I would get rid of Jamie Oliver and tell people to eat what they like’.
He later added: ‘I say let people eat what they like. Why shouldn’t they push pies through the railings?’.
He went on to say: ‘I would ban sweets from school – but this pressure to bring in healthy food is too much.’
He later denied criticising Mr Oliver, calling him a ‘saint’.
Last summer he declared war on ‘sin taxes’ on sugary and fatty foods – as he warns they hit the poorest with higher bills.
During his Tory leadership campaign he promised to review Theresa May’s flagship sugar tax on fizzy drinks. He also vowed to freeze new taxes on HFSS foods and argued those who want to lose weight should just exercise more.
But his hospitalisation with coronavirus is believed to have shocked him into a change of heart.
Earlier this month he admitted that he had taken a ‘very libertarian stance’ in the past but stressed that the effects of obesity cannot be ‘ignored’.
‘Compare I’m afraid this wonderful country of ours to other European countries, we are significantly fatter than most others – apart from the Maltese for some reason,’ he said.
‘It is an issue…. Everybody knows that this is a tough one.’
Mr Johnson added: ‘I think it matters and I don’t think politicians can treat is as irrelevant.’
Mr Johnson has been spotted in recent weeks running in London – including at Buckingham Palace, and in an interview with the Mail on Sunday he declared he was ‘as fit as a butcher’s dog’ before doing press-ups in his office.
‘It is going to ban promotions of food ten days before the Chancellor launches the biggest food promotion the food proportion the country has ever seen.
‘It is going to put enormous costs on the advertising industry and on broadcasters at a time when the economy is in quite a tenuous situation.’
The Prime Minister is set to unveil a new anti-obesity strategy next week after being warned that his weight may have contributed to his brush with death when he himself contracted coronavirus this year.
He has previously spoken out against curbs on junk food. In 2006, as celebrity chef Jamie Oliver campaigned on improving school meals, he told the Conservative Party Conference: ‘If I was in charge I would get rid of Jamie Oliver and tell people to eat what they like … why shouldn’t they push pies through the railings?’
But an anti-obesity campaigner suggested his own illness had changed his mind.
Tam Fry, of the National Obesity Forum, told the BBC’s Today Programme: ‘I think his experience in St Thomas’s Hospital was a real game changer and I believe this was the reason why he has suddenly become so involved in curing obesity.
‘He knows full well his weight was a great problem when they came to treat him.’
Asked about the plans today, Mr Johnson said: ‘I’m not normally a believer in nannying… type of politics.
‘Losing weight is, frankly, one of the ways that you can reduce your own risks from Covid.’
Stephen Woodford, chief executive of the Advertising Association, said the UK already had the ‘the strictest rules in the world on advertising’ high fat and salty foods.
‘They limit exposure of the under 16s to advertising, so particularly when it affects children they are seeing much less advertising from this sort of food,’ he told Times Radio.
‘Actually the evidence is pretty weak for the direct connection between advertising and obesity levels. When you look around the world … (marketing agency) McKinsey did a huge study that looked at all the different factors (and) I think it was 14th on the list of factors that affects obesity levels both in children and adults.
‘There are many more effective measures to control obesity and to reduce obesity.
‘It’s quite easy to call for something that is the most visible to be reduced or restricted – it is already heavily restricted and further restrictions won’t do the trick.’
The Prime Minister has ruled out introducing new ‘sin taxes’ such as the sugar tax on soft drinks. But he is considering new labelling laws designed to make it much easier for people to avoid products that are high in fat and salt.
Mr Johnson is also expected to launch a major drive to encourage people to walk and cycle, with millions poured into building new bike lanes.
Obesity is a major risk factor in coronavirus patients, with the overweight much more likely to need hospital treatment or even die. Diabetes is also known to be a major risk.
Boris reveals post-Covid weight-loss
Boris Johnson revealed he has lost more than a stone in weight since his coronavirus scare today as he urged Britis to join him in getting fit this summer to ward off the worst of the disease.
The Prime Minister urged podgy Brits to shed the pounds, with studies showing that being overweight makes the illness far worse.
Mr Johnson spent a week in intensive care in May after coming down with coronavirus and is believed to have been shocked that his weight may have played a part in the seriousness of his condition.
Speaking on a visit to a London health centre today to encourage uptake of the winter flu jab the PM, who has been photographed running since his return to Downing Street, told reporters: ‘I’m on the way, I’ve lost about a stone and a bit.
‘Primarily by eating less, but also by a lot of exercise.’
He declined to give further details of his weight loss regimen.
Obesity has been flagged as a major risk factor for coronavirus, with researchers finding that obese people have a 37 per cent higher risk of dying from it. One in four Britons is obese.
The Prime Minister, who is now on a diet, is said to have been shocked that his own 17-stone weight may have put him in intensive care when he contracted Covid-19.
He is said to be ‘obsessed’ with the issue, telling aides: ‘It’s all right for you thinnies.’ The PM, who was previously sceptical of ‘nanny state’ interventions on obesity, has now ruled that a war on weight must be launched this summer to help people slim down before a possible second wave of the virus this winter.
Last month he said: ‘We will be happier, fitter and more resistant to diseases like Covid if we can tackle obesity.’
But any move is likely to be controversial – and would deal a serious blow to commercial broadcasters already hit by a dramatic fall in revenue this year as a result of the recession sparked by the lockdown.
Downing Street declined to comment last night. This morning Social Care Minister Helen Whateley declined to comment on a leak.
But she told BBC Breakfast: ‘Half of adults are overweight, one in five children leaving primary school are obese and obesity brings with it a whole host of health challenges.
‘Very particularly with Covid you’re at greater risk of getting Covid, greater risk of complications, greater risk – very sadly – of dying from Covid, if you are overweight.’
She added: ‘As it is such an important health challenge we have to take it on and the Prime Minister is committed to making sure we tackle obesity.’
Last month, Mr Johnson said politicians cannot treat obesity as ‘irrelevant’ and that the issue is ‘hugely costly for the NHS’.
He told Times Radio that the UK was ‘significantly fatter’ than most European countries, and added: ‘We certainly must have a care for the health of our population and we will be happier and fitter and more resistant to diseases like Covid if we can tackle obesity.
In 2006, when he was shadow higher education minister, Mr Johnson hit out at Jamie Oliver’s campaign for healthier school meals, telling the Tory party conference: ‘If I was in charge I would get rid of Jamie Oliver and tell people to eat what they like.’
Retail and advertising executives have been told the plans will include a ban on TV ads for junk food such as burgers and chocolate before 9pm (file image)
Mr Fry added that the reported measures around junk food advertising were ‘not enough’ and they ‘may have an impact but will not be the answer you need to have an across-the-board approach to everything in life which affects obesity’.
The chairman of the National Obesity Forum added: ‘All Boris Johnson has done at the moment is identify two or three areas where he thinks that he probably will have the quickest return.’
Mr Fry said he hopes ‘the penny has dropped’ about the importance of tackling obesity.
He explained: ‘My hope is that this is the epiphany moment of the Government to do something positive which will have a real effect on both the nation’s health and individual obesity.’