U.K. Unveils Junk Food Ad Ban Online to Help Curb Obesity

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Junk food commercials will be banned on British television before 9 p.m. and outlawed completely online, under new government proposals to curb rising obesity levels.

Boris Johnson’s administration will also force firms with more than 250 employees -- including restaurant and pub chains -- to list calories on food. Promotions like “buy one get one free” on high fat, salt and sugar food and drinks will be restricted in supermarkets from next April.

The changes are part of the Health and Care Bill unveiled Tuesday as the government set out its legislative program for the U.K.’s revival after the coronavirus crisis.

Johnson was hospitalized with Covid-19 last year and has blamed his weight for the severity of his disease. “I had a very common underlying condition,” he told the virtual Conservative Party conference in October. “My friends, I was too fat.”

Risk factor

The prime minister has since made an effort to shed some pounds by giving up “late-night cheese.” But the junk food ad ban is quite a turnaround for the man who has long railed against the “nanny state” and, as an MP in 2006, told the BBC: “I say let people eat what they like”.

The proportion of men in England living with obesity has risen from 6% in 1980 to 27% in 2019, according to the Department of Health, and from 9% to 29% of women. Obesity is considered a major risk factor not only with coronavirus, but for a range of chronic conditions including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and a number of kinds of cancer.

Other anti-obesity measures announced by the government include a new incentives scheme called “Fit Miles” that will draw on innovation from the public and private sector to test how rewards can encourage healthier behaviors.

Greater support from family doctors has also been promised, so more people can get referrals to weight management programs. But ministers have dropped plans to require pubs and bars to put calorie counts on alcoholic drinks, following a backlash from the industry.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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