- 22 September 2020
RSPH is pleased that the Government has announced actions including:
- Limits on price promotions, such as Buy One Get One Free, for the unhealthiest products
- Restrictions on location-based promotions for foods high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS), including the prominent end-of-aisle and checkout positions
- Mandatory calorie labelling in the out of home sector
- A ban on junk food advertising before 9pm on TV and online.
However, RSPH is disappointed that the strategy has glaring omissions, such as:
- Extending fiscal measures such as the sugar levy beyond soft drinks, to other products which are high in fat, salt and sugar
- Policies to address the “causes of the causes” of obesity, such as poverty
- Planning and licensing restrictions to tackle the clustering of fast food takeaways
- An absence of clear targets for reducing the rate of overweight and obesity.
The strategy is launched alongside the ‘Better Health’ campaign led by Public Health England (PHE), encouraging individuals to change their behaviour to become healthier. People will be supported to do this with apps and bolstered weight management services, with more details to be announced later this year. Individuals have a role to play in looking after their health, but evidence suggests changes to our environment could be much more effective at addressing the causes of obesity than too much reliance on nudging and information.
According to a recent survey of 380 RSPH members, ‘greater powers for Local Authorities to restrict the opening and clustering of unhealthy food outlets such as fast food eateries’ was identified as the most important policy that the Government should adopt in its approach to obesity. While the junk food advertising watershed on TV and online is a step in the right direction, broader advertising and the ready availability of HFSS products is a systemic problem in our high streets that needs to be addressed with better planning and licensing powers for councils.
Christina Marriott, Chief Executive of RSPH, said: “The Government’s obesity strategy is very welcome, particularly as we know COVID-19 poses a greater risk for people with overweight and obesity. However, obesity was a public health issue long before the pandemic, and will continue to be unless we take even bolder action.
“The Government has developed a taste for changing the obesity-causing environment, but we need bigger structural changes if we are going to turn the tide on this epidemic. Asking individuals to take responsibility for their weight has to be supported by the Government standing up to industry armoured with the most effective policies such as taxation – it has worked through the Soft Drinks Levy, and should be extended to foods too. We hope that Mr Johnson’s efforts are not undermined by a system that still places profits before health.
“Any strategy needs to have clear targets - the lack of targets in the strategy is concerning, and suggests that the Government will not be held to account. We need a clear aim, then action. The time for consultation is over – we know what we need to do, so let’s begin.”