Boris Johnson was last night urged to ‘hold fast’ on plans to limit buy-one-get-one-free deals and ban junk food adverts before 9pm.
The Obesity Health Alliance has written to the Prime Minister warning him not to cave in to pressure from his backbenchers and industry to water down the policies.
It claims the plans — described as ‘nannying’ by critics — are crucial to curb rising childhood obesity and reduce young people’s risk of cancer and type 2 diabetes.
Mr Johnson announced a crackdown on obesity in 2020 after a near-fatal bout of Covid which he attributed to being overweight.
As part of the plan, new laws restricting offers on foods high in fat, sugar and salt are due to come into effect in medium and large shops in October.
Junk food giants will also be banned from advertising online and before 9pm on TV by January 2023.
However, reports indicate Mr Johnson and his new policy chief, Andrew Griffith MP, are considering diluting or dropping the plans to appease mutinous Tory MPs who oppose nanny-state interventions and are angry about parties in Downing Street during lockdown.
Junk food giants will be banned from advertising online and before 9pm on TV by 2023 under current plans
The Obesity Health Alliance has written to the Prime Minister warning him not to cave in to pressure from his backbenches and industry to water down the policies (File photo)
The letter, from health charities including the British Heart Foundation and Diabetes UK, warns childhood obesity rates are at an all-time high and have jumped 4.6 per cent in the last year alone.
More than a quarter of children starting primary school are now overweight or obese, rising to four in 10 for youngsters aged 11 to 12.
Pharmacists can now refer obese people to free weight loss courses to help reduce burden on NHS
Patients can ask to be signed up for the 12-week programme or staff can recommend it if they think it will be beneficial.
The online NHS course includes access to tailored diet and exercise plans, apps and one-to-one training and support.
It is open to adults in England with high blood pressure or diabetes and a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher.
Those from Asian, black and minority ethnic backgrounds can join with a lower BMI of 27.5, due to their increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
Until now, patients had to be seen by their GP before they could access the course.
Three in five adults in England are overweight. More than one in four is obese, placing them at an increased risk of cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Diabetes is estimated to cost the NHS £10billion a year, with one in 20 GP prescriptions issued to treat the condition.
Dr Bruce Warner, deputy chief pharmaceutical officer at NHS England, said: ‘Adults with obesity can now walk into any high street community pharmacy to take the first step on a life-changing weight loss journey.’
Projections show that the growing number of people with the condition could result in nearly 39,000 extra people having a heart attack in 2035, and more than 50,000 suffering a stroke.
And children from the poorest areas are more than twice as likely to be obese than those from the richest areas.
Meanwhile, two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese, costing the health service £6billion a year.
The Government pledged to halve childhood obesity and tackle close inequalities between youngsters from the most and least deprived areas by 2030.
Rules due to come into force in eight months time are set to force shops with more than 50 employees to phase out offers on food high in fat, sugar and salt.
They will also be ordered to stop promoting unhealthy food offers at checkouts, store entrances or at the end of aisles.
Pubs and restaurants are also being hit by the new rules and will no longer be allowed to offer free refills of sugary soft drinks.
Local authorities will have powers to issue fines to businesses failing to comply with the rules.
The Government estimates the regulations will accrue £60million in health benefits over 25 years through increased quality of life and extending lives through a drop in obesity rates.
The letter states: ‘To concede now would see the Government renege on repeated commitments to these policies.’
They warned it would also ‘fly in the face of public opinion’ after a poll of more than 2,000 Britons found three-quarters of people support the 9pm watershed for junk food adverts and restrictions on unhealthy food offers in-store.
More than half of people were in favour of ending multi-buy offers on unhealthy products in shops, while 74 per cent supported an end to online junk food adverts.
The letter, which is also from Cancer Research UK and the Royal College of Physicians, states: ‘As representatives of the health sector, we ask you to maintain your bold commitment to addressing obesity with landmark, evidence-based policy.
‘Failing to implement the new promotions policy would set the obesity and levelling up strategies back, would do nothing to address the cost-of-living crisis, and could waste Parliamentary time and energy at a time when more than ever, we need to focus on improving the health of our nation.’
In 2018, child obesity prevalence was 9.7 per cent in reception aged children and 20.2 per cent in year 6 children. It is now 14.4 per cent and 25.5 per cent, respectively.
Caroline Cerny, Alliance Lead at the Obesity Health Alliance, said: ‘In 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised the nation he would make healthier choices easier for everyone.
‘Rowing back on these promises now would leave him with the legacy as the leader who cancelled laws which would prevent thousands of children from developing obesity.’
Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said: ‘We urge the Prime Minister to hold fast and put the nations’ health first, not bow to industry pressure.’
Professor Rachel Batterham, special advisor on obesity at the Royal College of Physicians, said: ‘It is incredibly concerning to hear that the prime minister might row back on plans to stem the tide of aggressive marketing of unhealthy food and drink.
‘This could have devastating consequences, particularly for children and young people.’