Voters Feel Let Down by Lack of Action on Obesity

Posted on: 23rd May 2023
  • 80% of UK adults support the Government banning advertising of unhealthy food on TV (79%) and online (81%) to kids.
  • 68% of UK adults would support an industry levy being extended beyond soft drinks if the money supported children’s food and health initiatives.
  • The Obesity Health Alliance urges the new Prime Minister to prioritise child health.

Today (23rd May) the Obesity Health Alliance (OHA) is hand-delivering letters to the future leaders of the UK Government with a simple request for ALL political parties to commit to addressing the high levels of excess weight in the UK population.

This comes as new YouGov national polling data suggests the British public overwhelmingly want action from politicians in order to create a healthier environment.

As a group of leading health charities, campaign groups and Medical Royal Colleges that includes the British Liver Trust, the OHA is deeply concerned that unless bold action is taken excess weight will continue to drive unacceptable inequality in the health of the richest and poorest people in the UK. In addition, it will pile on the pressure on the NHS – new research estimates that supporting people living with obesity costs the NHS twice as much as supporting people with a healthy weight[1]- and drive down economic productivity by forcing thousands more people out of the workforce.

The OHA will today present MPs from the Conservative Party, Labour Party, and the Liberal Democrats at the House of Parliament with its manifesto for the next General election – highlighting the massive opportunity to protect health.  The next government can deliver this by building on the successes of the Soft Drinks Industry Levy and empowering local communities to make the places they live healthier.

In summary, voters want to see the next government:

Prioritise health:

  • 60% of adults think advertising unhealthy food impacts on how much people buy.
  • 8 out of 10 adults support the Government banning advertising of unhealthy food on TV (79%) and online (81%) to kids.
  • Only 5% of adults strongly oppose a ban.

Build on what works such as the Soft Drinks Industry Levy model or the ‘sugar tax’:

  • 79% of adults think the current Government should generally be doing more to make sure that healthy food is affordable during the cost-of-living crisis.
  • 77% of all adults think the funds from the sugar tax should be used directly to fund programmes aimed at improving children’s health.
  • 68% would like to see the SDIL model expanded to other unhealthy food and drink items.
  • Only 7% of adults strongly oppose an expansion of the levy.

Empower local communities:

  • 58% of adults would like their local council to be able to use planning laws to reduce the number of unhealthy food outlets in the local area.
  • 64% of adults would like their local council to be able to restrict unhealthy food and drink advertising in outdoor areas.
  • 76% of adults would like their local council to be able to restrict unhealthy food and drink advertising near places that children congregate (e.g. schools, playgrounds).
  • This is supported by adults all around the country from Yorkshire & Humber 72% down to the South West 75%.

Katharine Jenner, Director of the Obesity Health Alliance says “Today we have written to the potential next Prime Minister of the country with a simple request to put children’s health first, address Britain’s obesity crisis and redesign a broken food system that puts profit before health. Luckily there are already policies such as the Soft Drinks Industry Levy that have proven to be effective so all that is required now is to build on this success.

“As individuals we deserve to have more control over the food and drink that’s available and marketed to us and the next government should lead on child health”.

Vanessa Hebditch, Director of Communications and Policy at the British Liver Trust, says “Being overweight is the main risk factor for developing non-alcohol related fatty liver disease – a major reason for the huge increases in the numbers of people affected by liver disease that we are seeing across the UK. The YouGov survey findings show clear public support, across the political spectrum, for action to tackle the obesity crisis. The next government needs to take urgent action to bring forward a regulatory framework to effectively deliver a healthier food environment for everyone.

Bridget Turner, Director of Policy at Diabetes UK says “Promises have been made to make healthier choices easier for the public and, in particular, children and families. However, they haven’t been kept. There is an opportunity now for the next Government to make a real difference to the health of the population by holding the food & drink industry accountable for everyone's benefit.”

Ben Reynolds, of food and farming charity Sustain, says: “It should be easy for everyone to eat healthily, especially children but it isn’t.  Our country is flooded with cheap, unhealthy, heavily processed food.  If it really was as simple as ‘eat less and move more’ we wouldn’t have a dietary health crisis.  The public are crystal clear in their appetite for Government intervention to redesign the food system to put health first. This provides an open goal for any political party to take leadership on meaningful action on prevention of ill health and set a long-term vision for a healthier and happier nation”

British Medical Association Board of Science Chair Professor David Strain says: “As medical professionals, we can see first-hand the devastating effect that obesity is having on both the child and adult population in the UK. The serious risk of illnesses associated with obesity including cancer, heart disease and diabetes highlights just how life-threatening it can be.

“Any future Prime Minister and Government must understand the importance of implementing laws and restrictions on the junk food industry that effectively curbs the population’s exposure to the advertising and marketing behind many unhealthy food choices impacting their health.”

[1] Pearson-Studdard, pre-publication, Cost of obesity patients to the NHS [accessed 19th May 2023]