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Former Tory health ministers condemn Boris Johnson’s junk food ‘U-turn’

By Kate Devlin
PA Wire

Former Tory health ministers have condemned Boris Johnson’s U-turn on junk food, with one denouncing the plans as “unConservative”.

The cost of obesity-related illnesses places a huge financial burden on taxpayers and the NHS, Lord Bethell said.

The latest move was not “aligned with the kind of Conservative principles that I’m familiar with”, he added. Another former Conservative health minister Steve Brine told The Independent the decision was “extremely short-sighted” and would cost money as well as the “health and wellbeing of the poorest in society”.

The government last week U-turned on plans to restrict junk food promotions inside supermarkets.

Both proposed ban on buy-one-get-one-free (bogof) deals on unhealthy food and a 9pm watershed for television adverts have been delayed for a year.

Mr Johnson was elected Conservative leader with a platform to resist moves he considered part of a “nanny state” agenda. But he changed his mind after he was hospitalised with Covid in 2020. He later talked about how he lost weight after his time in intensive care and his desire to get a grip on the problem of obesity.

But the plans to restrict junk food promotions have come under pressure in recent weeks, amid fears of shoppers struggling with food prices and the cost of living.

Mr Brine, a former minister for public health and primary care, told The Independent the decision was “extremely short-sighted”. “The child obesity and wider prevention piece was always a package of measures to try and turn around our growing problem with weight management and all the associated problems that can cause in later life. In the end, it will cost money as well the health and well-being of the poorest in society,” he said.

Lord Bethell said the delay could "blow a hole" in the government’s obesity strategy.

“That has a massive follow-on effect on all of our health targets,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

“More people are getting cancer due to obesity-related effects. So the cancer 10-year plan ... and many more of our health targets are damaged by this.

“All of this illness that is caused by [being] overweight from junk food is being carried by the NHS and by the taxpayer. We do need to account for all of the costs of the obesity crisis in this country.”

He added that there was a huge cost for taxpayers, saying: “That’s why this move is so unConservative… This is not a move that is in any way aligned with the kind of Conservative principles that I’m familiar with.”

He also accused supermarkets of indulging in an “arms race on junk food”, warning “that needs to change".

Meanwhile, celebrity chef and obesity campaigner Jamie Oliver said that banning junk food adverts was vital to protecting children’s health, as he described the delay as a “wasted opportunity”.

Maggie Throup, the current public health minister, has insisted that the government remains determined to tackle the issue of childhood obesity.

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Dive Deeper:
Boris Johnson accused of ‘playing politics with children’s health’ after junk food U-turn
Campaigners fear delay to restrictions on ‘Bogof’ deals and TV ads will undermine fight against child obesity
William Hague blasts Boris Johnson's 'weak, shallow, immoral' junk food U-turn
The former Tory leader unveiled a blistering riposte to Boris Johnson for pushing back a ban on buy-one-get-one-free deals on…
Jamie Oliver hits out at junk food ‘BOGOF’ deal ban delay saying it erodes obesity strategy
The Government’s U-turn on banning multi-buy junk food deals and pre-watershed TV advertising has alarmed health campaigners
Delay to junk food ads ban could ‘blow a hole’ in UK obesity strategy
Failing to stop people eating unhealthily will increase number needing NHS treatment, says former health minister Lord Bethell
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Tory backlash grows over delay to junk food TV ad ban
Conservative MPs raise fears that Boris Johnson’s decision to ease cost of living crisis will help fuel obesity
Former Tory minister Jeremy Hunt declines to describe Boris Johnson as an ‘honest man’
Former Tory minister Jeremy Hunt has declined to say whether Boris Johnson is an honest man but said he hoped…
Get all your news in one place