Junk food should be taxed more rigorously to help ease the UK’s rising levels of obesity, Danone UK & Ireland’s president James Mayer has said.
Government invervention is now “necessary” as food manufacturers have not shown enough “appetite to change”, Mayer said in a statement seen by Just Food.
He advocated increased funding for local councils to enforce rules on high sugar, salt or fat (HFSS) products, advertising restrictions on HFSS foods and “looking at how VAT rates can be aligned to the health credentials of products”.
“As one of the largest food suppliers in the country, we think the UK food industry’s efforts to improve the health profile of its products have not moved fast enough,” Mayer said.
“It is time for the Government to move from a policy that favours caution, to one that sets clear parameters for the industry and consumers as to what constitutes a healthy product. We see this as the only way industry as a whole will be incentivised to move towards healthier, more sustainable products over the often cheaper but unhealthy alternatives.”
An estimated 25.9% of adults in England are obese, according to a government study published in December 2022. A further 37.9% are thought to be overweight but not obese.
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In April, the Actimel brand owner launched “commitments on health”, including a pledge to “never produce a product for children” which is higher in sugar, salt or fat than UK guidance recommends.
It also pledged that at least 90% of its portfolio of products by sales volume would not be HFSS and said it would assess front-of-pack nutritional labelling.
At the time, Mayer said: “Consumers are more health conscious today than they ever have been. As an industry, we must continue to help consumers to make healthy choices by offering products that are both tasty and nutritious. That is why, as a purpose-led company, we commit to maintain a strongly health-focused portfolio.”
Meanwhile, a Food and Drink Federation study suggested big food companies had been much more successful in lowering the sugar and salt content of their products than UK small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The study, published in April, said SMEs had struggled to reformulate HFSS products.
Mayer’s comments follow the delay of a ban on pre-watershed junk-food advertisements on UK television.
The restrictions on TV and online adverts for HFSS foods were pushed back to 1 October 2025 in December, having first been scheduled to be implemented last April.
The proposals were part of a government strategy to combat childhood obesity.
Last month opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer said the Labour Party would ban junk-food advertising aimed at children if it gets into power after the next General Election.