Reported plans to ban junk food adverts before the 9pm watershed and curb snack promotions are “not enough” to tackle obesity, a specialist has said.
Government plans to tackle the nation’s waistlines could also include prohibiting online advertising for unhealthy foods, according to reports in the Financial Times.
Ministers and officials are thought to be still finalising the plans, but the chair of the National Obesity Forum believes they “may have an impact but will not be the answer”.
Tam Fry told the PA news agency: “You need to have an across-the-board approach to everything in life which affects obesity.”
Mr Fry said the proposals are “not enough”, adding that “all Boris Johnson has done at the moment is identify two or three areas where he thinks that he probably will have the quickest return”.
The head of the campaign group thinks the reported measures have been triggered by Mr Johnson’s time in intensive care with Covid-19, and “the Government and the medical people are frightened”.
Mr Fry believes officials “are scared of the likely impact if there is a second Covid spike because it is now well known that if you are obese you are twice as likely to contract Covid-19 and the mere fact that you’re obese makes it much more difficult to treat Covid in hospital”.
A minister said an announcement on the issue would be coming “imminently” and that “obesity is one of the greatest if not the greatest health challenge we face as a country”.
Minister for care Helen Whately told BBC Breakfast: “Half of adults are overweight, one in five children leaving primary school are obese and obesity brings with it a whole host of health challenges.
“Very particularly with Covid you’re at greater risk of getting Covid, greater risk of complications, greater risk – very sadly – of dying from Covid, if you are overweight.”
She added: “As it is such an important health challenge we have to take it on and the Prime Minister is committed to making sure we tackle obesity.”
Last month, Mr Johnson said politicians cannot treat obesity as “irrelevant” and that the issue is “hugely costly for the NHS”.
He told Times Radio that the UK was “significantly fatter” than most European countries, and added: “We certainly must have a care for the health of our population and we will be happier and fitter and more resistant to diseases like Covid if we can tackle obesity.”
Mr Johnson revealed on Friday he has lost weight since being admitted to intensive care with coronavirus, as he encouraged other people to target their own weight, saying: “I’m on the way, I’ve lost about a stone and a bit.
“Primarily by eating less, but also by a lot of exercise.”
The Obesity Health Alliance has welcomed the reported curbs on “relentless advertising and promotion of unhealthy food”.
Caroline Cerny, lead at the coalition of more than 40 health charities, said: “There is overwhelming evidence that junk food advertising works.
“So when adverts for unhealthy food and drinks dominate prime-time TV and social media, while the nation struggles to maintain a healthy weight, this is a problem.”
She believes the “incentive to the food industry to reduce sugar, fat and salt from their products” would “benefit everyone”.
The expected drive on obesity and health eating comes more than a decade after Mr Johnson appeared to criticise Jamie Oliver’s school meals campaign.
At the 2006 Conservative conference, the then-Tory education spokesman told a fringe-meeting, “I would ban sweets from school – but this pressure to bring in healthy food is too much,” the BBC reported at the time.
He also reportedly defended mothers who help their children avoid healthier options, arguing: “Why shouldn’t they push pies through the railings?”
Mr Johnson later called the chef a “national hero” and said he had been “completely misquoted”.
Speaking the following day at the Bournemouth party conference, Mr Johnson called Mr Oliver’s campaign “a wonderful crusade” and admitted he “may have made a few glancing references to the importance of eating pies”.
He quipped: “I am a determined member of the pie-eating liberation front.”