Royal College of Psychiatrists responds to Government delays to 'junk food' policies

Statement / comment
17 May 2022

The Government has announced it will delay the introduction of TV and online advertising restrictions and volume promotion policies designed to address obesity. We know that those with obesity are more likely to experience depression and other mental health disorders as well as disproportionately affecting more deprived communities. Therefore, this announcement will only exacerbate existing health inequalities.

It is crucial that there is a restriction on advertising for highly marketed, ultra-processed foods and their often-misleading price offers. The health of the nation also depends on action on socio-economic deprivation, overall food quality, and urban planning. In particular, targeted action is required to address those most affected by the cost-of-living crisis.  

Experts in obesity and eating disorders agree that any legislation to address obesity must also be balanced with the needs of those suffering from eating disorders.  

Dr Jonathan Campion, Clinical and Strategic Codirector of the Public Mental Health Implementation Centre, at the Royal College of Psychiatrists said:

“We are extremely concerned by the Government’s decision to delay policies designed to reduce obesity and promote healthy eating and lifestyles, including restrictions on TV and online advertising as well as supermarket promotions. These promotions are often deceptively priced and offer ultra-processed food in place of healthier alternatives. They disproportionately affect the health of the more deprived parts of the community and those at increased risk of obesity, including people with mental health conditions.

“By delaying meaningful action on “junk food” promotions, the Government undermines its obesity strategy and risks the target of halving childhood obesity by 2030. These moves will effectively place responsibility for preventing obesity and managing eating disorders firmly on the individual.

“Public health policies must address the socio-economic deprivation and poor food quality at the heart of this issue, alongside regulating the food, diet and fitness industries. The creation and protection of safe physical spaces that encourage play and active transport, like walking and cycling, are also vital in the fight against obesity. These strategies are also useful to promote mental health, including the prevention of eating disorders.” 

For further information, please contact: