IN an effort to combat Wales’ alarming “obesity crisis,” the government has revealed plans to implement restrictions on the placement and price promotions of high fat, sugar, and salt products in shops. The new law, set to take effect as early as next year, aims to improve diets and prevent obesity, as currently, over 60% of adults in Wales are overweight and more than a quarter of children are overweight or obese by the time they start school.
Under the proposed legislation, regulations will be put in place regarding the items that can be sold as part of volume-based promotions and multi-buys, such as buy-one-get-one-free offers and meal deals. Furthermore, rules will dictate where unhealthy products can be displayed within stores, such as at the end of aisles, near entrances, and at checkouts.
To address concerns raised by the public, the Welsh Government clarified that it is not seeking to ban meal deals altogether but rather intends to exclude the unhealthiest products from such offers. This clarification follows a previous proposal that sparked public outrage.
While some critics, including the Welsh Conservatives, argued that the government should have taken more substantial action against obesity, they emphasized the need to avoid increasing shopping bills during the current cost-of-living crisis.
Retailers and trade associations have previously warned that the legislation could lead to higher prices and limited choices for consumers, while also negatively impacting Welsh producers. There were concerns that the proposed regulations would go beyond similar rules implemented in England, placing additional pressure on retailers.
However, the government cited broad public support for measures aimed at promoting healthier food options. A survey conducted by Public Health Wales (PHW), titled “Time To Talk Public Health,” revealed that 57% of respondents agreed that governments should use financial tools, such as taxes, to reduce sugar in high-sugar foods.
According to PHW, Wales currently faces record levels of obesity-related diseases, including type 2 diabetes. If current trends persist, it is projected that obesity will cost the National Health Service (NHS) in Wales over £465 million by 2050.
PHW has gathered evidence suggesting that between 29% and 41% of food and drink expenditure in the UK is attributed to price promotions. Furthermore, individuals who frequently purchase items on promotion are more likely to be living with overweight or obesity.
The introduction of these measures is expected to encourage the food and retail industry to explore ways of making healthier options more accessible and affordable. This may involve providing more promotions on nutritious foods or reducing the fat, sugar, and salt content in restricted products.
Lynne Neagle, the deputy minister for mental health and wellbeing, expressed her support for the legislation, stating, “This legislation will take forward our commitment to improve diets and help prevent obesity in Wales. Our aim is to rebalance our food environments towards healthier products, so that the healthy choice becomes the easy choice.”
Gemma Roberts, from Obesity Alliance Cymru, welcomed the proposed legislation, remarking, “There is an obesity crisis in Wales, and we are pleased to see the Welsh Government proposing legislation which will support the people of Wales to make healthy choices.”
Dr. Ilona Johnson, a consultant for Public Health Wales, acknowledged the complexity of the issue but stressed the effectiveness of policies targeting the food environment. She noted that a strong legislative framework is an important step in promoting healthier choices and healthier individuals.
Tory shadow minister for health, James Evans MS, highlighted the urgency of addressing obesity and expressed his desire for clear assurances from the Welsh Labour Government that meal deals would not be banned and that any new regulations would not increase the average weekly cost for shoppers.