Doctors slam Liz Truss plan to scrap ban on junk food ‘buy one get one free’ offers as childhood obesity soars

The Conservative leadership frontrunner said she would do away with junk food taxes, a ban on BOGOF offers, and other ‘nanny state’ policies in an interview with the Daily Mail.

<p>Liz Truss pledged to roll back plans to ban BOGOF offers on junk food if she becomes Prime Minister, according to the Daily Mail</p>

Liz Truss pledged to roll back plans to ban BOGOF offers on junk food if she becomes Prime Minister, according to the Daily Mail

Doctors have hit out at Liz Truss over her pledge to scrap a ban on junk food promotions in England, labelling the prime ministerial candidate’s comments “unbelievable” and “hugely disappointing”.

Ms Truss, currently the frontrunner in the Tory leadership contest, promised to rip up plans to ban ‘buy one, get one free’ offers on food and drinks high in fat, sugar and salt in an interview with the Daily Mail on Monday (1 August).

The ban – a cornerstone of the Government’s obesity strategy, and already passed by Parliament – was due to come in this October, but was delayed for a year by outgoing prime minister Boris Johnson due to the cost of living crisis.

Ms Truss’s comments – which also included a pledge not to impose new junk food taxes – have been met with dismay among doctors and health experts, with NHS figures showing efforts to reduce childhood obesity have gone into reverse following the pandemic.

Almost one in four state school pupils now leave primary school obese or severely obese.

The British Medical Association (BMA), which represents UK doctors, said “lives are at risk”, adding it was worried the next government would continue “to place business profits before the health of our children”.

Professor Graham MacGregor, chair of Queen Mary University’s Action on Sugar and Action on Salt campaign groups, said policies such as the ban on junk food offers were needed to “prevent unnecessary death and suffering” and save the NHS millions of pounds.

Childhood obesity is on the rise - despite plans to halve it

In 2018 the Government launched a plan to halve childhood obesity by the year 2030.

NHS Digital data shows one in five (20.1%) pupils were obese or severly obese during their last year of primary school in the 2017/18 school year, just before the Government set out its ambition.

That number subsequently rose for three consecutive years, jumping to a whopping one in four (25.5%) in 2020/21, during the Covid pandemic. It fell to 23.5% in 2021/22, according to provisional figures, still the second highest proportion since records began in 2006/07.

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In some parts of the country, more than a third of Year Six pupils were obese in the 2019/20 school year – the last year with local data, due to the impact of lockdown on the school measuring programme – while almost two-fifths (38.1%) of pupils were obese in the worst affected area, Walsall, near Birmingham.

Obesity is more prevalent among young boys, with 26.5% affected in the last year of primary school in 2021/22, compared to 20.3% of girls.

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There is also a strong link between deprivation and obesity.

In 2020/21 (the latest data), Year Six pupils in the most deprived areas were more than twice as likely to be obese compared to those from the least deprived – 33.8% versus only 14.3%.

Which parts of the country have the biggest childhood obesity problem?

London and northern regions of England have a much bigger childhood obesity problem than southern regions.

In London, 30% of Year Six pupils were obese or severely obese in 2020/21 (the last year with regional data), as were 29.1% of children in the North East, which placed second.

These regions also saw the biggest jump in obesity during the pandemic, with prevalence up by 6.3 and 5.9 percentage points respectively.

The map below shows obesity prevalence in reception and Year Six pupils in each region. Can’t see the map? Click here to open it in a new window.

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Year Six children in the worst affected council area of England were 2.7 times more likely to be obese than in the area with the lowest prevelance.

In Walsall, 38.1% of pupils were obese while in Richmond upon Thames the figure was only 14%.

The second worst affected areas were Barking and Dagenham and Knowsley (36.3%) followed by Hackney and City of London (combined) and Sandwell (35.6%), Blackpool (35.3%) and Bradford (35.2%).

You can find out the figures for your local area in the map below. Can’t see the map? Click here to open it in a new window.

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What is the ban on junk food offers?

The new rules restricting promotions on products high in fat, sugar or salt are due to come into force in October 2023, after being approved by Parliament in December 2021 and then delayed by a year from an October 2022 deadline. They apply to businesses with 50 employees or more.

‘Volume price promotions’ such as ‘buy one, get one free’ or other multi-buy offers will be banned, and shops will not be allowed to display unhealthy products at tills, on the ends of aisles or near queuing areas. There are also restrictions on online product placement.

“Evidence shows that food retail price promotions are widespread and effective at influencing food preferences and purchases (particularly for children),” Government guidance on the rules to supermarkets states.

Restaurants will also be banned from offering unlimited refills of fizzy drinks

While Ms Truss vowed to halt the ban on promotional price deals, according to the Daily Mail, it is unclear what her views are on the other aspects of the regulations.

“People don’t want the Government telling them what to eat,” she told the newspaper, which also said she had pledged “no new nanny state levies would be imposed on products high in fat, sugar or salt if she became prime minister”.

Dr David Strain, chair of the board of science at the BMA, said it is “crucial” that the next prime minister tackles obesity with the urgent attention it needs.

“As doctors we see first-hand every day how obesity is denying children and young people a healthy start in life. Obesity increases the risk of developing serious illnesses including cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.

“The significant risk factor that obesity posed for becoming seriously ill or dying from Covid-19 shows we have ignored this issue for too long, at our peril.

“It is therefore hugely disappointing to hear plans from one of the candidates for prime minister to axe the new laws.

“Lives are at risk here, and there is a real danger the next government continues to place business profits before the health of our children.”

Professor Graham MacGregor said it was abundantly clear the UK Government’s voluntary sugar and salt reduction programme was not working, as he decried the “grim reality” of soaring childhood obesity exposed by NHS Digital’s figures.

“It’s unbelievable that Liz Truss is now pledging to halt public health policies aimed at improving our food environment at this crucial time when it’s needed the most,” he said.

"Without doubt, the soft drinks industry levy demonstrated best practice for both business and for the nation’s health, especially those from the most deprived areas, and a similar levy on junk food would be equally successful.

“More robust measures are needed in helping prevent unnecessary death and suffering,  and saving the NHS millions of pounds a year."

The Liz Truss campaign team was approached for comment.