Free refills of sugary drinks and “buy one get one free” offers on unhealthy foods will be banned under government plans to tackle obesity, it will be announced on Monday.
The restrictions, which cover any multi-buy promotion, will apply to foods high in fat, salt or sugar – including cakes, crisps, soft drinks, breakfast cereals, pizzas and ready meals. Small stores are exempt from the plans.
The measures will come into force from April 2022.
The restrictions will apply to foods high in fat, salt or sugar – including cakes, crisps, soft drinks, breakfast cereals, pizzas and ready meals. Small stores are exempt from the plans.
Manufacturers will have 14 months to reformulate less healthy products if they want to continue with promotions.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said the coronavirus pandemic had highlighted the need for the nation to lose weight, with Covid-19 being particularly deadly to overweight people.
The DHSC said that while promotions appear to save shoppers money, they actually encourage people to buy 20 per cent more than they need. Alongside supermarkets, the hospitality sector will no longer be allowed to offer free refills of sugary drinks.
Announcing an eight-week consultation on the plans, Public Health Minister Jo Churchill, said: “We know families want to be presented with healthier choices. This is why we are restricting promotions and introducing a range of measures to make sure the healthy choice is the easy choice.
“Creating an environment which helps everyone eat healthier foods more regularly is crucial to improving the health of the nation.”
The restrictions on promotions will only apply to businesses employing more than 50 people and on locations to stores larger than 2,000 square feet.
Retailers must also stop offering promotions on other unhealthy foods in prominent places, such as at checkouts or store entrances.
Professor Graham MacGregor, chair of the Action on Sugar charity, welcomed the announcement, saying it was an important and bold move.
“Putting junk food multi-buy offers in the aisles and at the checkouts is just another way of food companies sneaking their unhealthy products into your basket,” he said.
“Finally, Downing Street is acting decisively with a bold first step to restrict the sale of junk food on multi-buy offers and at checkouts, and taking on one of the biggest threats to Britain’s future health – childhood obesity.”
Almost two-thirds (63 per cent) of adults in England are overweight or living with obesity and 1 in 3 children leave primary school overweight or obese. Obesity-related illnesses currently cost the NHS £6 billion a year.
In the New Year, Public Health England (PHE) will also run new adverts on TV and online to inspire and support people to maintain a healthy weight.
Diabetes UK head of policy Helen Kirrane said the new restrictions are a “positive step” towards helping people across the UK to make healthier choices.
Obesity Health Alliance lead Caroline Cerny added: “Taking the spotlight off junk food means the only buy one get one free offers we see will be on healthier foods.
“Retailers won’t be able to tempt us to impulsively buy tins of sweets in supermarket entrances or chocolate bars in clothes shops.”
The Government also still intends to go ahead with a ban on junk food adverts being aired on television before 9pm.
The approach marks an about-turn for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has been a vocal opponent of so-called “sin taxes” and state “nannying”.
But Dr Saul Konviser from the Dental Wellness Trust said it could help prevent some of the 45,000 hospital operations each year to remove rotten teeth.
“Not only will the new restrictions on selling junk food on multi-buy offers and at checkouts help tackle childhood obesity, it will also significantly reduce the number of cases of tooth decay – one of the most common non-communicable diseases worldwide,” he said.