News / Children's Food Campaign

National Food Strategy author calls delay to Government obesity plans a ‘retrograde step’

Interviewed about the news that the government is delaying junk food ads and multibuy restrictions, Henry Dimbleby, the independent author of the Government’s National Food Strategy, has called the decision a ‘retrograde’ step. Disquiet amongst the Conservative Party is growing, with a number of former health ministers speaking out against the move. 

Burger. Credit: Pexels

Burger. Credit: Pexels

Henry Dimbleby has made it clear that he was not convinced by the Government's reasoning for delaying their own obesity plans and called it 'nonsense' to claim this would help with the cost of living crisis.

Interviewed on Radio 4’s Today programme Monday 16 May 2022, Henry Dimbleby said:

“Our appetite cannot cope with what food companies are throwing at it. We are programmed to seek out calorie dense food and we eat too much of it and it's making us sick. At the same time food companies disproportionately advertise and market that stuff to us and there's a vicious cycle - I call it the junk food cycle - that is leading us to a very dark place. What you need to do is break that commercial incentive and these two interventions [junk food ad and multibuy restrictions] are quite small ones, they won't be enough on their own, but they effectively make it harder for food companies to market the bad stuff to us and easy for them to market the good stuff to us. Unless you do it by legislation they can't do it independently - they are as stuck as we are because another competitor will just come in.”

Questioned about the Department of Health and Social Care statement that they were making the move to give industry more time to prepare for the restrictions and to help with the cost of living crisis, Henry Dimbleby said:

“It’s extraordinary. It’s demonstrably not the case. Food marketers are taught about a thing called the consumption effect… they know that certain products, if you bulk sell them, people buy more, they put them in the cupboard and then they eat more. It puts up the cost of your basket. If they [supermarkets] want to they can just discount prices on those things which doesn't have the same effect, which will help with the cost of living but they do the BOGOFs [Buy One Get One Free deals] because they know that people will end up spending more and consuming more of those foods. With advertising it is actually going to reduce the cost to food companies as it's a huge part of their marketing spend. 75% of marketing spend in food companies goes on this and by restricting that it will actually reduce the cost. The cost of living argument is complete nonsense.”

Meanwhile, disquiet is growing from within the Conservative Party about these proposals. Writing in the Times  (£) Lord Bethell dismissed multibuy offers on junk food as a 'swindle' and argued that the policy reversal was 'un Conservative'. He wrote: 

"It’s the tempting promotions for chocolates, crisps and other junk food that are so pernicious. Foods with high fat, sugar and salt are addictive. So these promotions lure households into buying more food than they perhaps need, and tempt them away from healthy options and towards 'treats' that ultimately contribute to obesity and poor health."

He continues:

"For me, there are strong Conservative reasons for these measures. Good health is the foundation of freedom; without good health, people find it hard to fulfill their potential in almost every field of life. They are less economically productive, less able to create and care for a family, more likely to need medical and financial support from the state, and more likely to die young.

"Voters understand that bad health is oppressive. It hits your earnings, self-worth and ability to care for your family. Like the effects of crime, it hurts the poorest the most."

Former health minister Steve Brine, told The Independent the delay was 'short sighted' and said: 

“The child obesity and wider prevention piece was always a package of measures to try and turn around our growing problem with weight management and all the associated problems that can cause in later life. In the end, it will cost money as well the health and well-being of the poorest in society”.


Published 16 May 2022

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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