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No silver bullet in the fight against obesity

Published Wednesday, 5th August 2020 in News news

The quest to tackle obesity in the UK by banning ‘buy one get one free’ (BOGOF) promotions will have a modest impact on the consumption of junk food, according to a senior economist.
Banning promotions on unhealthy food is just one way to reduce obesity

The quest to tackle obesity in the UK by banning ‘buy one get one free’ (BOGOF) promotions will have a modest impact on the consumption of junk food, according to a senior economist.

Last month, the UK Government announced it will be banning BOGOF deals on unhealthy foods in England as part of its new strategy to get the nation fit and healthy, protect it against Covid-19 and protect the NHS.

TV adverts for foods high in fat, sugar and salt will also be banned before 9pm in the whole of the UK, and new rules will require calories to be displayed on menus to help people make healthier choices when eating out.

In a blog published by the London School of Economics and Political Science, Dr Cesar Revoredo-Giha, a senior economist at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), said that while it was a move in the right direction, the ban on BOGOF offers alone would have a modest impact on the purchase and consumption of unhealthy food.

Using figures for Scotland, he looked at the use of promotions to sell so-called ‘discretionary foods’ such as confectionery, sweet biscuits, savoury snacks, cakes, pastries, puddings and sugary soft drinks.

While these foods are optional in the diet, they have a significant impact, accounting on average for around a fifth of total calories, fat and saturated fats, and over half of added sugar, consumed.

Looking at the different types of promotions, including temporary price reductions, multibuy offers and buying a set number of a product for a set price (Y for £X), he found there had been a decreasing trend in the use of promotions for discretionary food sales in Scotland, from 46 per cent in 2013 to just under 40 per cent in 2018, with an increasing proportion of products sold at full price.

Of all the promotions, temporary price reductions are the most common type of promotion – and this is the only one that has not decreased, remaining at around 30 per cent of discretionary product sales.

While concerns have been raised that the elimination of BOGOFs would impact low-income households the most, using the example of take-home confectionary Dr Revoredo-Giha found the differences between income groups was relatively minor, with the highest proportion of sales under multibuy or Y for £X offers made by those in the £40,000 to £49,000 income range.

He wrote: “It has been recognised that there are no silver bullets in the fight against obesity, and the food environment is complex. 

“The banning of BOGOFs on discretionary products alone will most probably have a modest impact on the purchase and consumption of discretionary products, given their low importance on the sales. Nevertheless, it is a movement in the right direction towards addressing the incentives that consumers face when making food choices.

“The food environment also needs to improve the nutritional quality of the food supply. This requires the collaboration of the Government and the industry to set targets that are realistic and reachable.  

“Finally, it cannot be forgotten that without consumers embracing better dietary patterns, none of the considered measures will have any impact.”

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