Tory MPs have blasted the Government’s ‘nanny state’ plan to ban online junk food adverts as they argued ‘people should assume responsibility for their own health’.
Conservative backbenchers said the proposals were ‘incoherent’ because they come just a matter of weeks after ministers were encouraging people to eat fast food through the Eat Out to Help Out scheme.
Meanwhile, critics of the policy said it had been ‘designed by fanatics’ and it will have ‘no impact on obesity’ as they called for a U-turn.
The proposed online advertising ban would apply to food which is high in fat, sugar and salt.
The Department of Health and Social Care has launched a six week consultation on the plan to understand the potential impact of the measures.
But there is a growing backlash because foods such as avocados, Marmite, mustard and hummus could all be affected, as well as meals like fish and chips, and curry.
Boris Johnson is under pressure to drop plans to ban online junk food adverts after Tory MPs savaged the ‘nanny state’ policy
Tory MPs said it would be ‘incoherent’ to ban the adverts just a matter of weeks after ministers were encouraging people to take advantage of the Eat Out to Help Out programme
Food and drinks that companies cannot advertise online under government proposals
The proposed ban on junk food adverts online will target food and drink products that are high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS).
How a product is classified as HFSS has not been finalised yet.
Experts suggest the Government could use the familiar ‘traffic light’ system seen on food packaging.
The Government has also developed the Nutrient Profile Model which uses nutritional information to calculate out a products quality
Foods that could be considered HFSS under these methods could include:
- Oils and dressings
- Butter and spreads
- Breakfast cereals
- Crisps and savoury snacks
- Some fruits
- Ice cream
- Yoghurt drinks
Has Carrie been pushing for tough obesity action? PM’s dislike for ‘nanny state’ eased after Covid scare
Boris Johnson has cited his coronavirus scare as having a significant impact on his attitude to obesity.
Launching previous elements of the government strategy over the summer, he referred to how his extra weight put him at greater risk.
And many at Westminster believe fiancee Carrie Symond has played a big role in pushing him towards tougher intervention.
Ms Symonds, an experienced media adviser herself, was credited with helping sharpen up the PM’s image when they struck up their relationship.
They now have a small son, Wilfred.
Mr Johnson has embarked on a major health drive since his coronavirus escape, running almost daily and walking their dog Dilyn.
He has bluntly admitted to being ‘too fat’ and said exercising Dilyn had helped him lose ‘at least a stone’.
A senior Tory MP said: ‘Carrie has a lot of power in the current circumstances that people underestimate.’
They suggested that she had been helping push the obesity agenda behind the scenes.
They said: ‘Boris was clearly overweight and that clearly gave a problem when he got Covid. He has been quite open about it.’
The Government’s Eat Out to Help Out initiative ran from August 3 to 31, offering people a 50 per cent discount on meals at participating restaurants, as ministers tried to get the hospitality industry back on its feet.
Numerous fast food companies took part in the scheme and Tory MPs today took aim at the Government for following one of its key coronavirus business support programmes with proposals to ban online junk food adverts.
One Tory MP said: ‘That is the sort of incoherence that is causing problems.
‘Also someone has to make a decision on what junk food actually is and I am not aware of anyone who has actually managed it.
‘I don’t like nannying people. When George Osborne came up with the sugar tax that was bad enough and I think people should assume responsibility for their own health.
‘Far more sensible than a ban on advertising would be an information campaign that treats people like adults.
‘It is not as straight forward as just banning things.’
Another Tory MP said: ‘It is a sort of nanny state thing which the PM used to rail against.
‘It is sort of anti what you would think Boris stood for.
‘It is not what we should be doing. If they press ahead with it it will annoy a lot of backbenchers.
‘If we were in opposition now we would be complaining merry hell about it.’
The proposals were also slammed by the Institute of Economic Affairs think tank, with head of lifestyle economics Christopher Snowdon warning the ban would impact ‘a huge range of perfectly normal food and drink products’.
‘It will cover everything from jam and yoghurt to Cornish pasties and mustard, and will include all forms of online advertising, including paid-for search engine listings, emails and even text messages – at any time day or night,’ he said.
‘No country in the world has attempted anything like this and with good reason.
‘It will permanently exclude businesses large and small from the primary marketing medium of our time.
‘It is an ill-considered policy designed by fanatics who have mis-sold it to politicians as a ban on “junk food” advertising.
‘It will be hugely damaging to food producers, especially small businesses and start up companies, and will have no impact on obesity.’
Matt Kilcoyne, from the Adam Smith Institute, said: ‘Under the plans, you could advertise a lamb joint as long as it’s uncooked, but if it is roasted you can’t.’
Mr Kilcoyne said the messaging from the Government was ‘muddled’ as many of the foods celebrated by its Food Is Great campaign — including salmon, cream teas and whisky — would be excluded from advertising in the UK.
The Food and Drink Federation said it ‘beggars belief’ the industry had only been given six weeks to respond and ‘it could not come at a worse time for food and drink manufacturers’.
Advertising campaigners said the plans would deal a ‘huge blow’ to a sector already dealing with the impact of Covid-19.
In a joint statement, the leaders of the Advertising Association, the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers, the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising and the Internet Advertising Bureau UK said: ‘To borrow the Prime Minister’s language, this is not an “oven-ready” policy; it is not even half-baked.
‘But it does have all the ingredients of a kick in the teeth for our industry from a Government which we believed was interested in prioritising economic growth alongside targeted interventions to support health and wellbeing.’
But Health Secretary Matt Hancock defended the proposals and said: ‘I am determined to help parents, children and families in the UK make healthier choices about what they eat.
The proposed ban will target advertisements for foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt. Pictured: a Big Mac
One think tank said online adverts for avocados could be banned under the proposals because the fruit is high in fat
‘We know as children spend more time online, parents want to be reassured they are not being exposed to adverts promoting unhealthy foods, which can affect eating habits for life.
‘This will be a world-leading measure to tackle the obesity challenges we face now but it will also address a problem that will only become more prominent in the future.’
Research has found one in three children leave primary school overweight, or obese, and almost two-thirds of adults in England are overweight or living with obesity.
It also found children are exposed to 15 billion adverts for products high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) every year.
The Government’s proposals were welcomed by the Obesity Health Alliance (OHA), the British Heart Foundation (BHF), Action On Sugar and the Dental Wellness Trust.
Jacob West from BHF said: ‘Ending the constant flood of online junk food advertising would be a big step forward in protecting everyone’s health, particularly children.
‘This must be implemented swiftly alongside a 9pm junk food marketing watershed on TV and a comprehensive set of other measures to create a healthy environment.’