The opposition Labour Party in the UK has said it will ban junk food advertising aimed at children if it gets into power after the next General Election.
In a speech today (22 May) about the party’s plans for the National Health Service (NHS) and the nation’s health more generally, Sir Keir Starmer, Labour’s leader, said: “I am saying very clearly to those who profit from harming our children – no, not in Britain.”
He added: “We will change advertising rules and we will make sure that products which are harmful to our children’s health – vaping, junk food, sugary snacks – cannot be advertised to our children.”
Starmer told UK broadcaster the BBC this morning sugary foods should not be advertised to under-18s “in his very strong view”.
He added: “It’s so bad for their health, so bad for the NHS.”
With an election in all probability a year or more away – the latest it can be held under the five-year fixed term rule is January 2025 – Labour has not detailed exactly how its junk food ad plans would work in terms of what would be banned and when and on what types of media. Just Food has asked the party for further details.
The ruling Conservative government introduced a sugar tax on soft drinks in 2016 – but has delayed plans for a ban on junk food adverts before 9pm, the so-called threshold between advertising which may be seen by children and that which is specifically intended for adults.
In December, it said the restrictions on TV and online adverts for foods high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) were being pushed back to 1 October 2025.
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 last year before being pushed back again to January 2024.
It was a decision that was heavily criticised by health campaign groups but the UK government said it had decided to prioritise households’ struggles with the cost of living over ambitions to tackle the country’s obesity problem.
Speaking to the media today, Starmer said he was against imposing a tax on salty and sugary foods during the cost-of-living crisis if the party comes to power.
“We don’t want to go down the road of making food more expensive in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis,” he said.
Responding to Starmer’s speech, Mhairi Brown, policy, public affairs and international projects lead at campaign group Action on Sugar and Action on Salt said: “We are encouraged to learn that Sir Keir Starmer’s health missions will have a significant focus on the role of prevention in delivering a sustainable NHS, with specific commitments on delivering the restrictions on junk food advertising and a target to improving children’s health as part of a wider mission to tackle health inequalities.
“Whilst there was no commitment to extending the soft drinks industry levy to other categories, his government must find equally effective measures which incentivise the food industry to reduce the sugar and salt in their junk food products. Labour is best placed to do this: the previous Labour government initiated a successful programme to reduce levels of salt in food. Progress has since stalled under the Conservatives but must be reinvigorated with mandatory targets.”