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Government bans ads for junk food before 9pm as part of obesity strategy

Advertisements for junk food will be banned before 9pm in a bid to tackle child obesity as part of the government’s wider obesity strategy.

There will be a ban on TV and online adverts for food high in fat, sugar and salt before 9pm when children are most likely to see them to help improve the health and fitness of children and young people after it emerged that one in three children leave primary school overweight or obese.

The government will also hold a new short consultation on whether the ban on online adverts for food high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) should apply at all times of day. Analysis published by Cancer Research UK from September 2019 shows that almost half (47.6%) of all food adverts shown over the month on ITV1, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Sky1 were for products high in fat, sugar and salt. This rises to almost 60% during the 6pm to 9pm slot – the time slot where children’s viewing peaks.

Evidence shows that exposure to HFSS advertising can affect what and when children eat, both in the short term and the longer term by shaping children’s preferences at a young age.

Rather than focusing primarily on childhood obesity, the strategy represents a new focus on empowering adults to lose weight as well. A raft of measures have been revealed as part of the government’s strategy to help get the nation fit and healthy, protect themselves against COVID-19 and protect the NHS.

The strategy includes:

- Ban on TV and online adverts for food high in fat, sugar and salt before 9pm

- End of deals on unhealthy food high in salt, sugar and fat such as ‘buy one get one free’

- Calories to be displayed on menus to help people make healthier choices when eating out

- Alcoholic drinks may soon have to list hidden ‘liquid calories’

Obesity is one of the biggest health crises the country faces with almost two-thirds (63%) of adults in England either overweight or living with and obesity-related illnesses costing the NHS £6 billion a year.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought the issue to the fore with evidence linking people living with excess weight at greater risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19, with risk growing substantially as body mass index (BMI) increases. Nearly 8% of critically ill patients with COVID-19 in intensive care units have been morbidly obese, compared with 2.9% of the general population.

The government is also launching a new ‘Better Health’ campaign, led by Public Health England (PHE), which will call on people to embrace a healthier lifestyle and to lose weight if they need to, supported by a range of evidence-based tools and apps.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, said: “Losing weight is hard but with some small changes we can all feel fitter and healthier.

“If we all do our bit, we can reduce our health risks and protect ourselves against coronavirus – as well as taking pressure off the NHS,” he added.

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