UK launches consultation on junk food promotions

The UK Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has launched a public consultation on government plans to restrict price promotions for food and drink products that are high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS), FoodNavigator reports.

The consultation – announced on 12 January – follows on from Chapter 2 of the government’s childhood obesity plan, published in June 2018.

With one in four children overweight or obese by the time they start primary school, rising to one in three at age 11, the plan aims to halve childhood obesity by 2030 and reduce the socio economic gap seen in obesity.

The DHSC’s plan includes proposals to reduce children’s exposure to the marketing of unhealthy food in stores, television and online, restrict the sale of energy drinks (the sale of these products to under 16s was banned in March last year), introduce calorie labelling and encourage physical activity.

“Our aim is to reduce excessive eating and drinking of HFSS products that can lead to children becoming overweight and obese. We also want businesses to promote healthier food and drink, to help people make healthier choices,” DHSC said.

The consultation was set to close in April and asked industry stakeholders to comment on the restrictions of volume-based promotions, such as “buy one, get one free” and free refills on drinks, FoodNavigator said. The DHSC suggested that promotions like these “encourage people to buy more than they need”.

The DHSC is also discussing whether restrictions should be in place for the location of HFSS products in stores, such as at checkouts, aisle ends and store entrances.

The consultation has been described as a “monumental distraction” from the “abyss of a no-deal Brexit” by Tim Rycroft, chief operating officer of the UK Food and Drink Federation (FDF).

“This consultation – already late – should have waited until the uncertainty we face is resolved.”

Dan Parker, the founder of the health campaign group, Living Loud, acknowledged that limiting price promotions could have a negative impact on consumers with lower incomes but argued that price promotions should be used to encourage healthy eating.

Parker told FoodNavigator “Many families on low incomes rely on price promotions to feed their family. If we want to make the healthy choice the easy choice, they need to make the cheapest choice – and price promotions have an important role to play.”