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6 Aug 2020

Five ways the government's obesity strategy will affect you

These changes will make a difference at home, shopping at the supermarket, as well as going to a restaurant or pub

Given the evidence that coronavirus affects overweight people more severely, the government is implementing an obesity strategy to help us lose weight.

In England, almost two thirds of adults and one third of children leaving primary school are classed as overweight or obese, not to mention the fact that obesity-related illnesses cost the NHS £6bn a year.

The public-facing campaign is called 'Better Health: Let's Do This', which aims to make it easier for people to lead healthier lifestyles by losing weight and getting more active if they need to.

Along with a series of industry measures, it will impact your day-to-day life in a number of ways.

1. The end of 'buy one, get one free'?

Those appealing two-for-one offers on all of your favourite crisps and chocolates? Gone.

Which? research in 2016 and 2019 on the range of special offers available showed most deals are on confectionery, sugary soft drinks and other products high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS).

The government plans to end 'buy one, get one free' (BOGOF) and other promotions on foods that are 'unhealthy' - those classified as HFSS.

There will also be a ban on these products being placed in prominent locations in store, for example by the checkout and entrance.

Going forward, shops will be encouraged to promote and offer discounts on healthier choices such as fruit and vegetables.

2. TV and online bans of unhealthy food advertising

New laws are to be introduced which ban the advertising of HFSS foods on TV, as well as online, before 9pm.

Which? research has shown that existing rules aren't fit for purpose and don't cover the programmes most watched by children.

In 2019, research by Cancer Research UK found that almost half of all adverts over a month on ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Sky One were for HFSS products.

Additionally, during the hours of 6pm to 9pm, when families are most likely to be watching, this rose to 60%.

Some of the products you'll no longer see advertising for pre-watershed include crisps, biscuits, chocolate and sweets, some breakfast cereals and sugary drinks.

Companies such as pizza and burger chains will also have to change their advertising if they want to feature before 9pm.

The government is planning a consultation that will look at whether there should be a blanket ban on online adverts for HFSS products.

3. Calorie labelling on menus

If you eat out at restaurants, cafes and takeaways that employ more than 250 staff, you'll see calorie labelling on menu items.

Meals eaten out often contain more calories than those eaten at home, and research shows people consume 200 extra calories a day if they dineout.

Providing calorie information will enable people to make informed choices about what they eat.

In a Which? survey of 1,003 UK adults in January 2018, 63% agreed that calorie information should be provided for transparency.

Coffees with as much sugar as chocolate bars

4. Calorie information on alcohol

Most of us are unaware of the calories contained in our favourite tipples, but not for much longer, as soon you'll be told how many calories your drink contains.

Among those who drink, alcohol consumption accounts for around 10% of calorie intake, and 3.4 million adults consume an extra day's calories through alcohol each week.

The government plans to consult on providing calorie labelling on alcohol with the hope that it could lead to a reduction in intake.

Calories contained in popular drinks:

  • Pint of beer (4%) - 182kcal
  • 330ml bottle of beer (5%) - 142kcal
  • 175ml glass of wine - 159kcals
  • Glass of champagne - 89kcals
  • Glass of prosecco - 109kcals
  • Single gin and tonic - 110kcal

Source: Drinkaware.co.uk

5. A change to front of pack labelling?

The current front of pack label used by all supermarkets and many manufacturers in the UK combines traffic light colours and percentage reference intakes per portion.

Which? research shows this is the label most consumers prefer and understand, and it's widely used in the UK and around the world.

However, it's still not mandatory to provide this information.

The government will consult on how this label is used to ensure it meets the needs for UK consumers and as part of this consultation it will be compared with other international examples.

These include the Nutri-Score label used in France that gives foods a rating of A-E based on the nutrients it contains, and the Chilean label which carries labels that warn you if foods are high in particular nutrients.

Sue Davies, head of consumer protection and food policy at Which?, says:

'The government's new ambition to tackle obesity is to be applauded as we know people want support from policymakers and food businesses to help them make healthier choices.

'Once implemented, children should no longer be bombarded by unhealthy food ads when watching TV, going online or using social media, and we will see an end to the dominance of unhealthy in-store and online price promotions.

'People will be able to see how many calories are in foods when eating out in larger restaurants, pubs and cafes, in alcoholic drinks, along with clear front of pack nutrition labelling - which we also want the government to make mandatory.

'This strategy also needs to be supported across all policies. It's therefore crucial that the government, currently engaged in trade talks which could impact the food we eat, ensures this ambition to tackle obesity and improve diets is supported in our approach to food standards in trade negotiations.'

Find out more about our campaign to save our food standards in the UK.