U.K. Businesses See Obesity Plan Raising Prices, Hurting Economy
A chef with Gourmet Burger Kitchen (GBK) Ltd. delivery-only kitchen, places the top of a bun on a burger at a Deliveroo Editions field kitchen, operated by Roofoods Ltd., in Hove, U.K. (Photographer: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg)

U.K. Businesses See Obesity Plan Raising Prices, Hurting Economy

Retailers, advertisers and media companies lined up to criticize Boris Johnson’s obesity plan, saying its curbs risk raising prices for consumers and costing the U.K. economy more than 1 billion pounds ($1.3 billion) a year.

Proposals for strict new limits on junk food advertising and two-for-one offers in stores were unveiled Monday as ministers seek to control Britain’s growing obesity problem, which has been identified as a factor in coronavirus hospitalizations and deaths. Adverts for foods high in fat, sugar or salt would be banned before 9 p.m. under the plan.

“As the economy struggles to recover, new restrictions on promoting and advertising everyday food and drink will increase the price of food, reduce consumer choice and threaten jobs across the U.K.,” Tim Rycroft, chief operating officer at the Food and Drink Federation, said in a statement. “It is extraordinary that the government is proposing a ban on promotions of food and drink in retail at such a precarious economic time.”

The curbs mark a change of tack for Johnson, who’s previously complained about “nanny state” meddling in the lives of ordinary people. But the pandemic and his own hospitalization in April persuaded the prime minister of the need to act on obesity.

Almost two-thirds of British adults are overweight and one in three children leave primary school weighing too much, according to the Department for Health and Social Care.

‘Not Bossy’

The government “is just trying to help people a little bit to get their weight down,” Johnson said in a video on Twitter. “Not in an excessively bossy or nannying way, I hope.”

Ministers want to end buy-one-get-one-free promotions on sugary foods and to require calorie labels on more products in stores and restaurants. They will also consult on putting calorie counts on alcoholic beverages and imposing a blanket ban on junk food advertising online before introducing the new laws.

The restrictions will pile more pressure on food, retail, advertising and media industries, which are already suffering from the economic lockdown imposed to control the coronavirus pandemic, putting thousands of jobs under threat.

The Incorporated Society of British Advertisers called the announcement a “slap in the face,” and said the TV advertising curbs alone will cost the economy more than a billion pounds. That’s based on the government’s own pre-pandemic estimate that it would cost the advertising industry 171 million pounds, and an Advertising Association estimate that every pound spent on advertising benefits the economy by 6 pounds.

Higher Bills

The Food and Drink Federation said the measures will have a negligible effect on reducing calorie consumption while adding 600 pounds a year to the cost of a typical family’s grocery bill.

But health campaigners said the government should have gone further.

“It’s a missed opportunity that mandatory targets for reformulation i.e. removing unnecessary calories, sugar and salt from products have been excluded,” Katharine Jenner, Campaign Director at Action on Sugar and Action on Salt, said in a statement.

The new policies will mean “businesses will be responsible and we may well see ingredients in food changing in order to make them healthier,” Health Minister Helen Whately told the BBC on Monday.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

BQ Install

Bloomberg Quint

Add BloombergQuint App to Home screen.