New rules may be brought in to restrict retailers promoting unhealthy food and drink.
In a 12-week consultation launched at the weekend, the government is asking the public to give their views on:
- Restricting multibuy promotions of high fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) products, such as ‘buy one, get one free’
- Restricting promotions of HFSS products at checkouts, end of aisles and store entrances.
The consultation is part of chapter 2 of the government’s Childhood obesity plan. It will seek views from the public and industry on the potential measures, alongside whether exemptions should be made for small businesses so they are not penalised by the rules.
Currently, one in three children is overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school. Despite the complexity around obesity, experts are clear that the root cause is consistently consuming more calories than needed.
Recent research from the Obesity Health Alliance found that 43% of all food and drink products located in prominent areas were for sugary foods and drinks, with just 1% for fruit and vegetables.
The new rules would only apply to deals that promote HFSS food and drinks that are most often consumed by children. They would not stop discounts on household essentials.
Businesses would also still be free to offer discounts for individual sales of HFSS items, as this does not require consumers to buy more in order to benefit from savings.
Commenting, public health minister Steve Brine said: Preventing ill health is critical to our Long-Term Plan for the NHS, and I want to do everything in my power to keep people healthy for longer. This must start with the health and nutrition of our children. Tackling childhood obesity means working together across society, with industry, public services and families all having a role to play. All too often we hear people say less healthy foods are cheaper and easier but that is simply not the case. This is about ensuring businesses are doing their part to shift the balance and help children and families eat healthier options like fruit and vegetables.”
The British Medical Association (BMA) has welcomed the consultation.
Professor Dame Parveen Kumar, the BMA’s board of science chair, said: “With one in three children overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school, urgent action is required to stem this spiralling epidemic.
“Poor diet and being overweight or obese can lead to a range of physical health issues, such as increased likelihood of cancer, diabetes and heart conditions, and can also result in a number of psychological problems.”
She added: “While many parents are doing their best to make informed, healthier choices for both themselves and their children, this is undermined by promotions in stores that bombard consumers, both with multi-buy offers and checkout areas crammed with foods high in fat, sugar and salt. While promotions may seem like bargains, the price on our children’s health is extremely high.”
“We therefore welcome the government’s consultation on this important issue, and will be responding to it in detail in due course. The secretary of state for health has been clear that he wants to prioritise prevention - but only with the kind of firm regulatory change outlined in these proposals can we make a real difference to the health of our children and young people.”