The government would not be drawn on plans to axe a potential ban on online “junk food” ads even though several media reports suggest a U-turn is likely.
The proposals, which have come under heavy criticism since they were unveiled late last year, would prevent foods considered high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) from being advertised online.
As well as potentially affecting a wide range of retail products, from Marmite to avocados, the move would also restrict foodservice outlets, such as fish and chip shops, from promoting some of their menu items on social media.
On Friday, Whitehall insiders told The Sun Newspaper that ministers accept that a boycott would be “disproportionate” as it would cost businesses tens of millions and would only cut a child’s annual calorie intake by just 700 — equivalent to four packets of crisps.
When asked for clarification by Fry Magazine, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson would only say that a decision to ban the promotion of HFSS foods online will be announced “soon”, adding: "The urgency of tackling obesity has been brought to the fore by evidence of the link to an increased risk from COVID-19.
"To make it easier for people to lead healthier lives, we will be banning TV advertising before 9pm for foods high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS), as well as restricting promotions of unhealthy food and drink in retailers in 2022.
"We have consulted on a total advertising restriction online of HFSS foods and we will publish these results soon.”
According to the government, almost two-thirds (63%) of adults in England are overweight or living with obesity while one in three children leave primary school overweight or obese.
Obesity-related illnesses cost the NHS in the UK £6 billion a year.