Industry doubts whether banning television advertising on treats will impact on reducing obesity

This week has again brought a renewed spotlight on the major issue of obesity, which has been characterised as having reached crisis levels within the UK, with two thirds of UK adults considered as being overweight, according to Public Health England.

Such alarming statistics have been heading in the wrong direction for some time, and it seems the pandemic has been doing most of us no favours at all in that respect, with consumers turning to greater levels of comfort food in the form of snacks and confectionery amid anxious and challenging times over the past few months.

There has of course been considerable pressure place on government over the years on this topic, but it’s come back with a bang at this moment in time, with sweets and snacks being placed firmly in the spotlight in terms of the government proposing a TV advertising ban on products before the 9pm watershed. But will this have any effect at all? Clearly, on it’s own that would not likely to be the case, yet a package of measures including calorie labelling for restaurant and cafe menus, plus educational programmes may well make inroads into this long-running issue.

Furthermore, the other deeply concerning aspect of this situation is that according to Public Health England research, being overweight not only leads to a greater risk of type 2 diabetes for consumers, but obesity is also a factor in survival rates for severe cases of coronavirus, which has further hastened the government’s acknowledgement that a major campaign is required if we are to stave off a second wave of the disease.

However, as campaign groups including Action On Sugar have pointed out – without the key policy that it has called for in terms of extending the sugar tax placed on drinks over the past couple of years to the rest of the food sector, there’s little incentive for major manufacturers to divert hard-pressed financial resources into product reformulation at a time of looming recession.

As Dean Best, editor of Globaldata’s notes, manufacturers across the sector could have been facing even more severe challenges from government in terms of adapting their models to meet renewed dietary concerns.

He explained to Confectionery Production: “Levying a tax on certain foods would have a more significant impact on the industry than today’s measures, leaving manufacturers with a choice of putting up prices, absorbing the cost of the levy or trying to reformulate in product categories where recipe changes are far harder to get right than in soft drinks. Food manufacturers operating the UK may be feeling bruised but, if they stand back and reflect, they should conclude the Government’s measures could have been more draconian.”

Previous attempts to introduce such policies have led to accusations of ‘nanny state interference’ but with the mounting volumes of evidence on the situation’s severity, it’s clear that we have followed a pattern similar to that of America, in which on-the-go, fast food options alongside an array of processed food has grown at a rapid rate over the past two decades that has shaped consumer habits, perhaps for the worse, during that time.

As far as confectionery is concerned, one of the most effective contributions that has been made in recent memory has been the deliberate attempts at portion control by key manufacturers, which can only be seen as an encouraging sign, even if in some quarters, such actions are labelled as being ‘shrinkflation’ in make some of the nation’s favourite treats that bit smaller, which to some, is clearly hard to stomach.

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