Ban junk food adverts at sporting events and on public transport, Yorkshire expert urges Boris Johnson

A leading Yorkshire expert has urged Boris Johnson to go further in his war on obesity by banning adverts on unhealthy food at sporting events and on public transport as well as on television.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a visit to Tollgate Medical Centre in Beckton in East London. Pic: PA
Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a visit to Tollgate Medical Centre in Beckton in East London. Pic: PA

The Prime Minister yesterday announced the end of confectionery displays at store checkouts and a ban on junk food adverts on TV before 9pm as he looks to encourage Britons to shed the pounds.

Mr Johnson, who was "very overweight" when he was admitted to hospital with Covid-19 earlier this year, said he struggles with his own weight as he urged people to take action to improve their health.

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But Dr Stuart Flint, an Associate Professor of the Psychology of Obesity at the University of Leeds, said he was concerned about the focus on individuals' behaviour in the Government's campaign.

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He said: "I am concerned about the ‘Better Health’ campaign focus on individual behaviour change rather than system wide actions as this is likely to fuel weight stigma and discrimination that is already pervasive in the UK.

"Focusing solely on individual changes not only overlooks the wider determinants of obesity but leads to beliefs that obesity is solely within an individual’s control."

Dr Flint, a director at the charity Obesity UK, said the proposed ban on adverts for food high in salt, sugar and fat and supermarket deal was positive but "does not go far enough".

He said: "They need to be banned throughout society including at sports events and on public transport that are also known to influence positive attitudes towards these types of foods and these settings are used as a means of targeting children and young people."

Dr Flint said the Foresight report commissioned by the Labour government in 2007 showed that "there are over 100 factors that contribute to weight gain that are, for instance, biological, genetic, social, and psychological."

And he said: "As such, while the changes referred to by the Prime Minister to ban advertisements and deals for foods high in salt, sugar and fat are important population health interventions, further efforts including changes to the whole system and addressing the wider determinants of obesity are needed."

It emerged last year that Leeds had become the first city in the UK to report a drop in childhood obesity after introducing a programme to help parents set boundaries for their children and say no to sweets and junk food.

The decline was most marked among families living in the most deprived areas, where the problem is worst and hardest to tackle.

Kim Roberts, chief executive of charity HENRY, whose parenting classes formed part of the city's anti-obesity strategy, said: “We welcome the steps the Government is taking towards ensuring that our environment supports healthy food choices. But the plans don’t go far enough.

"Young children’s environment is their family, so any effective long-term strategy needs to include supporting parents to give their child a healthy start in life and prevent obesity before it is established.”

In a video released to mark the launch of the Government's obesity strategy, the Prime Minister said he had lost at least a stone in weight after recovering from coronavirus.

He said he was "way overweight" when he was admitted to intensive care in April as he battled Covid-19 and was put on oxygen.

A report published on Friday from Public Health England (PHE) found that being overweight or obese can dramatically increase the risk of hospitalisation and death from coronavirus.

Mr Johnson said: "I've always wanted to lose weight for ages and, I think like many people, I struggle with my weight - I go up and down.

"But since I recovered from coronavirus, I've been steadily building up my fitness.

"I don't want to make any excessive claims because I've only really just started concentrating on it, but I'm at least a stone down, I'm more than a stone down.

"But when I went into ICU (intensive care) when I was really ill... I was way overweight. I'm only 5ft 10.

"I start the day by going for a run with the dog, quite a gentle run but actually getting faster and faster now as I get fitter. There are health reasons, but it also makes you feel much better.

And that's the number one thing, you actually have more energy if you can get your weight down.

"And the other thing is that if you can get your weight down a bit and protect your health, you'll also be protecting the NHS."