The Government has announced it will further delay the introduction of restrictions on multibuy price promotions on foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar.

Last week, the Prime Minister committed to cutting NHS waiting lists by reducing obesity – in 2019/2020, there were over one million NHS admissions in England where excess weight was a factor.  Restricting multibuys on unhealthy food is an important part of the Government’s evidence-based obesity strategy, which will help address the causes, not just the symptoms, of diet-related ill health. 

Multi-buy price promotions do not save people money. The government’s own data shows they can increase food and drink purchasing by around 22%. They encourage people to buy more unhealthy food, rather than make savings from food already on their shopping list. This puts extra pressure on families with tight food budgets, not less. Instead, multi-buy price promotions on healthier food can help protect the budgets of poorer families and put healthy dinners back on the table.

The Obesity Health Alliance wrote to the Prime Minister,  urging him not to further delay the policy. Director Katharine Jenner said:

“Further delaying the multi-buy price promotions policy, which is part of the Government’s own evidence-based childhood obesity strategy, is hugely disappointing – especially given two thirds of adults are living with overweight or obesity and putting real pressure on the NHS.

“The Government’s own data shows these promotions cause people to spend 20% more than they intended, so why would the Government not want to address this and make it easier for families to buy healthier food instead? Otherwise it will exacerbate the already widening health inequalities by making healthier nutritious food less accessible to those who need it most.”

John Maingay, director of policy at the British Heart Foundation said:

“This dismaying move will not help struggling families save money. Instead, multi-buy deals actually lead to people spending more money and eating more junk food, when we know they really want help to access healthier options. The Government has said itself in recent weeks how important it is to drive down our high obesity rates – but it won’t achieve this unless it follows its own evidence and implements its own policies.

“There is no time to delay when it comes to addressing our obesity crisis, which costs our health service billions every year, and causes serious illness such as heart attacks and stroke. The Government must press ahead with restricting multi-buy deals, alongside the range of other measures needed to create a healthier environment for everyone.” 

Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, Michelle Mitchell, said:

“It’s disappointing to hear that once again the UK Government has retreated from implementing legislation that can help make a healthy diet more accessible, affordable and appealing for all. When obesity causes 13 different types of cancer, we need to see bold action. 

“Our research shows that people intend to make healthier choices when they shop, but they struggle to do so in practice. There is strong evidence that restricting multi-buy offers on unhealthy foods can shift away from this and make a positive contribution towards people’s health and wallets. 

“We urge the UK Government to press forward and commit to a strategy that will tackle rising obesity and reduce pressures on the NHS.”

 Ben Reynolds, Deputy CEO of food and farming alliance Sustain, said:

“These restrictions provide a level playing field for businesses to shift promotions to healthier products, helping not hindering consumers in these difficult times. The Prime Minister needs to stand firm on his ambitions to halve child obesity by 2030 and not cave-in to a small group of ideological backbenchers and vested interests.”

Professor David Strain, BMA Board of Science Chair, said:

“As doctors who witness first-hand the devastating impact that obesity has on the population’s health, both young and old, it is incredibly disappointing that the Government has further delayed this important policy. 

“The Government’s own evidence-based obesity strategy recognises the importance of curbing unhealthy food promotions so delaying this is knowingly placing the profits of junk food companies ahead of the health of the population.  

“Failure to implement more preventative policies also risks worsening the health inequalities association with obesity, with children living in more deprived areas being twice as likely to be obese. The Government has a responsibility to bring in this price promotion restrictions as planned in October 2023 as it is wholly irresponsible to not intervene to help protect the future health of population as the obesity crisis continues to spiral out of control.”

Professor Graham MacGregor, Action on Sugar, said:

“We strongly urge the government to follow the evidence and allow the incoming (and already delayed) multi-buy price promotions restrictions to come into force in October 2023 as planned rather than October 2025.  Without doubt, multi-buy price promotions do not save people money. Instead, they encourage people to impulsively buy more unhealthy food, rather than make savings from food already on their shopping list. 

“If ministers are serious about their ambition to halve childhood obesity by 2030, then this multi-buy price promotions policy, which is an important part of the Government’s evidence-based childhood obesity strategy, is vital. Otherwise, excess weight will continue to drive unacceptable inequalities in health outcomes whilst costing the NHS a staggering £6.5 billion annually on diet-related ill-health – piling pressure on the NHS and driving down economic productivity.”