The Government is to delay a ban on buy-one-get-one-free deals for unhealthy food products due to the “unprecedented” squeeze on living standards.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said the planned bar on multi-buy promotions on foods and drinks high in fat, salt, or sugar (HFSS) is being put back a year to October 2023.
A ban on TV adverts for HFSS products before a 9pm watershed and on paid-for adverts online is also being delayed by 12 months and will now come into effect in January 2024.
Officials said the deferral of the buy-one-get-one-free (Bogof) ban was to give ministers a chance to assess the impact on household finances amid intense concern over the cost-of-living squeeze.
However, health campaigners reacted with dismay to the news, accusing Boris Johnson of “playing politics” with children’s health.
Public Health Minister Maggie Throup insisted that they remained determined to tackle the issue of childhood obesity.
“We’re committed to doing everything we can to help people live healthier lives,” she said.
“Pausing restrictions on deals like buy one get one free will allow us to understand its impact on consumers in light of an unprecedented global economic situation.”
However Graham MacGregor, professor of cardiovascular medicine at Queen Mary University of London and chairman of Action on Sugar and Action on Salt, said the delays completely contradicted the Government’s “levelling up” agenda.
“Boris Johnson could have left a legacy of being the first Prime Minister to address obesity in a meaningful way, particularly in restricting advertising and promotion of unhealthy food which were his flagship policies,” he said.
“Instead, he has given in to his own MPs, and an aggressive food industry, who, ironically, were starting to comply with these new policies.”
Barbara Crowther, of the Children’s Food Campaign, said the Government should be moving faster on Bogof deals, not “delaying and dithering”.
“Obesity is spiking and millions of families can’t afford to put proper food on the table. Multi-buy offers make people spend more on junk, and less on healthy food,” she said.
“This delay threatens the UK target to halve childhood obesity by 2030. Boris is playing politics with our children’s health.”
For Labour, shadow public health minister Andrew Gwynne said: “Boris Johnson’s desperation to cling onto his job means the ideology of Conservative MPs is being placed above children’s health.
“Instead of cutting childhood obesity, preventing ill-health and easing pressure on the NHS, this chaotic government is performing another U-turn.”
However industry body the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) welcomed the “pragmatism” of the Government’s action.
Kate Halliwell, the FDF’s chief scientific officer, said: “At a time when both families and our manufacturers are struggling with high inflation, it makes sense to delay the restrictions on volume promotions for everyday food and drink products, including breakfast cereals, ready meals and yoghurts, as it risked further stretching already-pressed household budgets.
“We also welcome the delay to the start of advertising restrictions, given the time it will take our industry to prepare for the change in law.”
The DHSC said restrictions on the placement of less healthy products in stores and supermarkets will still come into force in October 2022 as planned.
Last month, laws on calorie labelling in large restaurants, cafes and takeaways came into force.