The new junk food ban

The UK government, having had its prime minister suffer the terrible effects of Covid-19, has launched a new bid to tackle obesity in the country. This is via a ban on new junk food adverts on television before 21:00, along with restrictions on where foods high in fat and sugar can be promoted in store, and new rules for displaying calories on menus.

Additionally, there will be a national campaign to encourage people to eat more healthily and lose weight. GPs will also be encouraged to prescribe exercise and will be offered incentives to provide help for people who are obese.

I did see this and think, so what’s new then? Successive governments have launched campaigns against obesity, but since Boris Johnson’s brush with death, perhaps he is thinking on this again. But is there anything new in this idea?

Not really. This most recent version has been on the cards since 2015 and PM Theresa May installed a sugar levy. But this ban on advertising seems to have little effect, according to the Advertising Association: “Children’s exposure to high fat, salt, and sugar adverts on TV has fallen by 70% over the last 15 years or so, but there’s been no change to obesity, so we don’t think these measures are going to work,” Sue Eustace of the organisation told the BBC.

The health secretary Matt Hancock says that the virus has given the government a wakeup call and this may be true. However, the issue becomes one of money and access to healthy food. The British government has been busy cutting public health budgets at councils through decreased overall funding over the past decade. And, if you’re unemployed, your priority is probably be going to filling your stomachs, never mind with what you can fill it with.

We have also seen the ham-handed efforts of government guidelines, where fruited yogurts and flavoured milkshakes have been lumped in with sweets and fizzy drinks, when the former two offer far more nutrition at low cost than the latter items. The idea of reducing sugar on the face of it seems like a good idea, but the law of unforeseen consequences kicks in, and the baby is thrown out with the bathwater.

So, while I applaud the news, I approach it with the caution of having seen this show before and knowing that we will be here again. I only hope dairy will be shown as the healthy, useful part of the diet that it is, when the inevitable recommendations are published.

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