It’s crucial that government balances cutting our bills with our long-term health
The government’s decision to postpone advertising bans for junk food, and multi-buy deals on salty and sugary snacks in the UK, is understandable, but it also poses some difficult questions.
All of us are feeling the cost-of-living crunch at the moment, and measures to save consumers some cash (and help businesses with their bottom line) are welcome. Yet, by promoting food which is often worst for us, policy makers are gambling with the public’s long-term health.
Most people are looking to retailers to help them make healthier choices, not push food high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) at the end of every aisle. Tesco, which announced it will go ahead with axing volume promotions on HFSS products from October anyway, has published customer data showing most people wanted to eat more healthily, and also wanted help from retailers to do so.
So, while food bills are a hot topic right now, pushing unhealthy food is not a long-term solution. I was recently at the Responsible Food Forum where Anna Taylor from the Food Foundation showed a study on the cheapest versus most expensive yoghurt pots in a supermarket. The difference meant a staggering five extra grams of added sugar per pot. Similarly, a one-pound frozen shepherd’s pie (designed to feed a family) included nearly 200 ingredients, which no-one outside of a science lab would ever have heard of.
The poorest in our society are the most likely to suffer from health issues but are often exposed to the unhealthiest food. So instead of removing a sensible policy to limit this food’s presence on shelves, what about policies that promote healthier food?
Equally worrying is that this reversal becomes the status quo, or harms wider upcoming HFSS regulations. The government should give a clear indication as soon as it can on when the junk food advertising bans will be reintroduced, but also put in place plans to help businesses manage the change. Big players can weather the transition — Mars has already launched new Bounty, Snickers, Mars and Galaxy bars which are HFSS compliant — but in these fraught times SMEs and start-ups will need all the support they can get.
There is a delicate balance to be struck between protecting the economy and protecting public health. The government can’t afford to be heavy handed one way or the other for too long.