Part of the Food Policy Snapshot Series
Overview: The United Kingdom has introduced legislation that will restrict special reduced-price offers on foods with high fat, sugar, and/or salt content. The legislation will also ban free refills for sodas.
Location: United Kingdom
Population: 68 million
Food policy category: Nutrition
Program goals: To reduce sugar intake and obesity rates in the country
How it works: The exact implementation and enforcement of the policy has not yet been finalized. However, as it is proposed currently, the legislation will affect price promotions, in-store product location, and online locations of foods high in fat, sugar, and salt (HFSS).
HFSS foods are defined as foods scoring four points or higher and beverages scoring one or higher in the UK’s 2004-2005 Nutrient Profiling Model. Examples include soft drinks, drinks with added sugars, cakes, candies, cereals, pastries, ice cream, pizza, chips, and prepared meals.
Restrictions will be placed on “buy one get one free” or “three for the price of two” price promotions for these products, and free refills on soft drinks will not be allowed.
HFSS foods may not be placed in checkout aisles, at the ends of store aisles, or in store entrances. Similarly, online shopping sites may not advertise HFSS foods on their homepage or pages where customers view their online cart to check out.
Price promotion exemptions will be made for businesses with fewer than 50 employees, and product placement exemptions will be made for businesses with fewer than 50 employees as well as stores smaller than 2,000 square feet and specialty stores such as bakeries and chocolatiers.
Progress to date: In June 2018, the UK government first announced its plans to limit promotions of HFSS foods. From January 12 through April 6, 2019, the government consulted with individuals, businesses, and organizations, and found that 60 percent of respondents were in favor of the proposed legislation goals. In July 2020, the government announced its intention to introduce legislation, and on December 28, they opened an eight-week consultation period in which the government is seeking opinions from businesses and law-enforcement bodies regarding implementation and enforcement of the legislation.
Why it is important: In 2019, almost 29 percent of adults in the UK were obese, and an additional 35 percent were overweight. Among children between the ages of 10 and 11, 20 percent were obese and 14 percent were overweight.
Obesity is largely related to diet and physical activity. Excessive consumption of processed foods and foods high in fat, added sugars, and refined carbohydrates often lead to obesity.
A 2015 UK study on price promotions for sugary foods and drinks found that high-sugar food and drink items are more likely to be on sale than healthier foods, and that reduced prices encourage consumers to buy more of these products than they normally would.
The restriction of promotional sales is meant to discourage residents from buying and consuming unhealthy food, and thereby help to lower obesity rates.
Program/Policy initiated: The policy will go into effect in April 2022.
Point of contact: N/A
Similar practices: The UK implemented a television and online junk food ad ban in 2020; France banned free refills on sugary drinks in 2017; and Mexico recently banned the sale of junk food to minors.
Evaluation: Evaluation has not yet taken place.
- Evaluating the Impact of Chile’s Marketing Regulation of Unhealthy Foods and Beverages: Pre-school and Adolescent Children’s Changes in Exposure to Food Advertising on Television (Public Health Nutrition)
- Food Advertisements: To Ban or Not to Ban? (Annals of Saudi Medicine)
- Food and Beverage Price Promotions: an Untapped Policy Target for Improving Population Diets and Health (Public Health Nutrition)
- Why We Should Ban Junk-Food Ads Aimed at Children (Washington Post)
- Beyond Willpower: Diet Quality and Quantity Matter (Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health)
- Britain to Restrict Promotion of Unhealthy Food from April 2022 (Reuters)
- Childhood Obesity: A Plan for Action, Chapter 2 (UK Department of Health and Social Care)
- England to Restrict Fatty Food Promotions in Anti-Obesity Drive (Bloomberg)
- Free Soda: France Bans Unlimited Sugary Drink Refills (BBC News)
- Government Rolls Out Junk Food Ad Ban (MarketingWeek)
- Mexican States Ban Sale Of Junk Food To Minors (NPR)
- The Nutrient Profiling Model (UK Department of Health and Social Care)
- Obesity Statistics (House of Commons Library)
- Online Consultation: Restricting Promotions of Products High in Fat, Sugar and Salt: Enforcement (UK Department of Health and Social Care)
- Restricting Promotions of Products High in Fat, Sugar and Salt by Location and by Price: Government Response to Public Consultation (UK Department of Health and Social Care)
- Restricting Promotions of Products High in Fat, Sugar and Salt: Enforcement (UK Department of Health and Social Care)
- Statistics on Obesity, Physical Activity and Diet, England, 2020 (UK National Health Service)
- Tackling Obesity: Empowering Adults and Children to Live Healthier Lives (UK Department of Health and Social Care)
- UK Restricting Promotions on ‘Unhealthy Food’ at Supermarkets, Retailers in Bid to Fight Obesity (Fox News)
- UK to Ban All Online Junk Food Advertising to Tackle Obesity (The Guardian)