The UK government has once again delayed a ban on junk-food advertising on television before the 9pm watershed, a decision “strongly condemned” by Action on Sugar.

The restrictions on TV and online adverts for foods high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) have been pushed back to 1 October 2025, the Department of Health and Social Care confirmed today (9 December), a decision earlier flagged by the Daily Mail newspaper.

They were first scheduled to be implemented in April 2022 under the Government’s strategy to combat childhood obesity. Then they were postponed to October this year, and in May, they were pushed back again to January 2024.

Under the new timetable, the UK could be governed by a fresh administration with a general election due in January 2025 at the latest, a facet highlighted by the Action on Sugar pressure group today.

“We strongly condemn the unethical actions of the Government in delaying these restrictions,” Action on Sugar said in a statement.

“Large multinational food and drink companies – who have had more than enough time to improve the quality of their food and drinks in preparation for the policy – spend billions of pounds every year on ruthless advertising campaigns to entice us and encourage us to buy and consume their products. It’s clear that these marketing strategies work.”

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Earlier today, Obesity Health Alliance, a coalition of more than 40 organisations, described the decision as “shocking”.

Katharine Jenner, director of Obesity Health Alliance, said efforts to improve children’s health “have been fatally undermined” by further stalling.

“Delaying junk-food advertising restrictions is a shocking move by the Government, with no valid justification to do so, other than giving a flimsy excuse that businesses need more time to prepare and reformulate,” she said.

“Research shows restricting junk-food adverts on TV and online would significantly reduce the number of children with excess weight. This is the action of a Government that seems to care more about its own short-term political health than the longer-term health of children.”

Ben Reynolds, deputy chief executive of food and farming alliance Sustain, said: “There is no justification for doing this other than appeasing the advertising and food industry and a small group of MPs who are in hock to them.

“In this cost-of-living crisis, it is not right that companies will continue to spend millions of pounds advertising a constant stream of unhealthy food, when what people really need is more affordable, healthy food and drinks.”

Action on Sugar said the latest delay was “unjustified and baseless” and urged the Government to restore the January 2024 implementation.

The group, which also has a sister pressure body, Action on Salt, said unhealthy HFSS diets are “the biggest cause of death and disability globally”, adding they cost the UK economy more than GBP100bn (US$122.6bn) a year.

Professor Graham MacGregor, the chairman for Action on Salt and Action on Sugar, said: “This news is hugely disappointing and goes against all the overwhelming evidence and public support in favour of it.

“The only people to benefit from this baseless delay are the multi-national food companies who are used to making huge profits from their unhealthy products and do not have a vested interest in the nation’s health.”

In April, the government said it had decided to prioritise households’ struggles with the cost of living over ambitions to tackle the country’s obesity problem.

At the time, the Department of Health and Social Care said in a statement: “Restrictions will be delayed in light of [the] unprecedented global economic situation and in order to give industry more time to prepare for the restrictions on advertising.”