There is “very limited evidence” curbing promotions would affect the level of obesity in the UK, the trade association representing food manufacturers has insisted, amid talk of government plans for measures in the area.

According to a report in The Times on Friday (10 July), the UK government is preparing plans to announce restrictions in England on the promotion of foods high in sugar, salt and fat, with moves to target promotions said to be in the offing.

However, UK trade body The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) is opposed to the idea, claiming restrictions would also make food less affordable and make it harder for shoppers to buy healthier products.

“There is very limited evidence to suggest that introducing promotional restrictions will make any difference to obesity levels,” Tim Rycroft, the FDF’s COO, said. “[The] UK government’s own impact assessment of 2019 showed these changes would only result in a 15-calorie daily reduction for a child.  

“Promotions offer various benefits including making food more affordable, which is important especially at this difficult economic time. Government data shows that, on average, people would have to spend GBP634 (US$800) a year more for the same food if promotions were banned.”

The Times said the measures, which the newspaper said is also expected to see a ban on confectionery being promoted at the end of supermarket aisles and at entrances, are to be announced this month.

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By GlobalData

Approached by just-food on Friday, the UK’s Department of Health and Social Care said: “We don’t have anything to add to this as it’s speculation. Any changes will be announced in due course.”

Rycroft suggested a move to curb promotions would limit the impact of recent moves by manufacturers in the UK to change recipes to make their products healthier.

“For more than ten years the food and drink industry has risen to the UK’s obesity challenge. Recipes of favourite products have been changed to reduce sugar, calories, fat and salt. Portion sizes have been limited,” he insisted. “FDF members’ voluntary work is already delivering substantial changes. Compared to four years ago, FDF member products contribute 11% less calories, 11% fewer sugars, and 14% less salt to the average shopping basket.

“Preventing manufacturers from promoting these reformulated, healthier options to adult shoppers would be illogical, which could severely impact the effectiveness of the Government’s reformulation programme and we urge government to think again.”

He added: “Any restrictions will disproportionately affect smaller businesses and ‘challenger’ brands when they are already facing additional struggles to recovery after the Covid-19 pandemic.”

On Saturday, The Guardian newspaper reported UK government officials were in talks about how to encourage people to lose weight ahead of a possible second wave of Covid-19 in the autumn.

Conditions such as type-2 diabetes and high blood pressure are associated with more severe complications from contracting the novel coronavirus.

Citing unnamed officials, The Guardian said a government programme to encourage people to reduce the calories they consume and to lose weight is expected imminently and possibly in the next ten days.