News Children's Food Campaign

Times Health Commission backs expansion of levies on unhealthy food

The final report from the year long Times Health Commission has backed many of the recommendations to reduce the dominance of unhealthy food and protect future health, including expansion of taxes on sugar and salt. Children's Food Campaign responds.

Young boy in supermarket. Copyright: ESB Professional | shutterstock

Young boy in supermarket. Copyright: ESB Professional | shutterstock

The Times Health Commission, led by Rachel Sylvester with a panel of health and medical experts have laid out ten recommendations to 'save the NHS' in their final report. The eighth recommendation is focussed on prevention of dietary disease and obesity, and calls for:

  • Expanding the sugary drinks tax, and also taxing high salt
  • Implementing a pre-watershed ban on junk food advertising
  • Reducing cartoons on packaging to minimise children's exposure to unhealthy food

Responding to the report, Children's Food Campaign Manager Barbara Crowther says:

"We're pleased to see such a strong focus on addressing the flood of unhealthy food products and marketing tactics that make it so hard for so many people to access healthy and nutritious food. We know that the soft drinks levy has had a massive impact in getting companies to remove sugar, but it's only one small category. We should be building on this success and it's great to see the Commission's recommendations.

"We welcome the recommendation to remove child-friendly cartoon characters from less healthy foods. Our own evidence and research with parents has shown how unhelpful these are in triggering pester power, and can also mislead parents into thinking they're healthier for children than they really are.

"We hope the Government will listen to the conclusions from this eminent panel of experts and consider further measures to protect children's health."

The recommendation to expand the sugary drinks tax to other products and also introduce taxes on salt reflects the call to action from the Recipe for Change campaign, led by Sustain, Obesity Health Alliance and Food Foundation and backed by over 40 other organisations. With the next budget due on 6 March 2024, the campaign's submission also recommends that HMTreasury issues a call for evidence, and also uprates the current Soft Drinks Industry Levy, which it has not done in the six years since its introduction in 2018. 

The introduction of a 9pm watershed and total online ban on advertising certain categories of less healthy food and drink was originally planned for January 2023, but the implementation has been delayed until October 2025. The Commission report says it should be introduced as soon as possible. In the meantime, with support from Sustain, many local authorities have started passing their own healthy food advertising policies, most recently in Knowsley and Newham, which also help to close loopholes in outdoor advertising spaces not covered in legislation.

According to new polling and focus groups conducted by the Times Health Commission, there is solid public support for expanding levies on unhealthy food and addressing misleading packaging.

  • 74%want a ban on food high in fat, salt and/or sugar (HFSS) from using packaging designed to appeal to children
  • 59% support a ban on advertising of HFSS food and drink before 9pm
  • 53% support expanding a tax to foods high in salt
  • 49% support expanding the soft drinks industry levy to milk-based drinks with high levels of sugar

Read the Times Health Commission Report

Read the Recipe for Change report on incentivising healthier food and drink

Published Tuesday 6 February 2024

Children's Food Campaign: Better food and food teaching for children in schools, and protection of children from junk food marketing are the aims of Sustain's high-profile Children's Food Campaign. We also want clear food labelling that can be understood by everyone, including children.

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