New British Prime Minister Risha Sunak has a lot to contend with at this time of economic uncertainty in the UK. But the nation’s health priorities and action against poor nutrition and unhealthy body weight should be high on his agenda.

Adhere to existing and planned anti-obesity legislation will not only benefit people’s health but also boost the UK economy. Healthier diets keep people going at workwhich increases productivity and helps cut millions of pounds in public spending on the NHS.

In September 2022, the government of Liz Trus ordered a review of the whole obesity strategy for England. This review included the possibility of canceling the levy on manufacturers of sugary drinks (which has been proven successful on reducing the amount of sugar households buy) and stopping legislation to limit the marketing of junk food online, on TV before 9pm and in retail outlets.

Despite the fact that Truss does not have a “nanny state” speeches, legislation It came into force on October 1, 2022, which restricts how retailers promote junk food. Shops across England are no longer allowed to display junk food in visible places such as entrances, tills and at the end of aisles.

It’s a watered-down version of the full legislation, which also bans promotions linked to multiple purchases, such as buy one, get one free, on junk food. Boris Johnson’s government deliberately delayed this component until October 2023 to help families cope with rising food costs. unfortunately evidence shows that these types of promotions increase the amount of junk food people buy and eat.

A good start

Although the legislation is relaxed, it is a good start to creating store layouts that encourage people to make healthier choices.

Ours research group and others have shown that moving junk food away from store entrances, tills and aisle ends and replacing it with healthy or non-food alternatives can change people’s shopping and dietary habits for the better – even in the poorest households.

Many retailers have made changes for the better since the announcement of this new legislation. They have invested time and money in understanding its complexity, retooling stores, testing which healthier promotions work, and changing product ingredients to make them healthier so they can continue to sell.

Placing healthier products at the supermarket entrance helps consumers make healthier choices.
Vogel, The author is introduced

Unfortunately, some shops take advantage of loopholes in the law. For example, some retailers advertise alcohol at the end of the aisles and create new advertising displays of sweets, chips and sugary drinks in the middle of the aisles to drive sales. The match is also not 100%.

Our research team asked consumers, businesses, healthcare professionals and law enforcement what they thought about this new legislation. We also conducted a conference help businesses and local authorities understand the complexity of this. Most people believe the new legislation could help everyone eat better, but as the past few weeks have shown, there is a need to monitor how shops are following the rules and the government needs to do more to close loopholes.

Businesses, especially small and medium-sized businesses, will also benefit from additional support in navigating the new law, as they lack the legal support that larger companies have.

Local governments are also overwhelmed by the pandemic and years of austerity and are unable to prioritize long-term health issues without additional funding.

The cycle of junk food

To tackle unhealthy diets and obesity in a way that gives everyone in the UK an equal chance to be healthy, the government needs to introduce policies that change the food environment and food system at the source of the problem. The food industry and its customers are trapped in what has been described as the cycle of junk foodwhere junk food is cheap to make, highly profitable, attractive to eat and affordable to buy.

The UK Government’s anti-obesity legislation needs to be supported and extended to break the cycle of unhealthy eating. Measuring how these policies affect the food people buy and eat will confirm that this is the right approach.

Continued enforcement of legislation that limits the extent to which businesses can promote and advertise unhealthy food, and a rejection of approaches that rely on individual change, will cement the UK Government’s position as a world leader on this significant issue.