Is cost-of-living an excuse for the failing fight against obesity?

The Government has faced backlash against its failing effort to tackle obesity across the UK. Jamie Oliver has joined criticism of the U-turn on fast food policy, refusing the government’s excuse of the current cost-of-living crisis.

The celebrity chef presented an Eton Mess dessert opposite Downing Street on Friday morning in protest over the government’s U-turn on halting ‘buy one get one free’ (BOGOF) offers on junk food.

A long-time healthy eating campaigner, Mr. Oliver praised Tesco for pledging to ban the deal from this October after the government postponed the ban for a year. He was surrounded by supporters as he embarked on the “What an Eton Mess” protest, in a dig at the PM’s school and his U-turn.

Speaking on a tour of the Hilltop Honey factory in Wales, Boris Johnson argued that while tackling obesity is of “vital importance” the BOGOF offers can help people struggling to put food on the table during the current cost of living crisis.

The Prime Minister said:

“There are lots of things you’ve got to focus on, including diet, eating less, well eating less is the most important thing,”

“But there are some things at the moment where we think they make very little difference to obesity and they can affect people’s weekly outgoings, people’s budgets. And at this particular time, if people can save on their food bills with some offers then I think we have just got to be flexible while we continue to tackle obesity.”

Mr. Oliver refused the Prime Minister’s statement arguing that the offers actually make people spend more. He explained:

“This whole strategy was designed by the government and has been researched by the government, proves that this particular mechanic (two for one deals on junk food) makes people spend more of their income and waste more.

“To use cost of living as an excuse is wrong, it’s completely unfair. The Eton Mess is symbolic of the mess that we’ve got ourselves into. And actually, if you look at what Tesco said today, they are going to continue on discounts (but on) healthier and sustainable (food).”

Oliver famously got Turkey Twizzlers banned from schools across the country in 2005 following his campaign to get schools to serve better quality food. The processed meaty treats were reintroduced in 2020 with a “healthier” recipe that includes no E numbers and about a 67% meat content.

Final thought

Jamie Oliver’s criticism joins an already wide-reaching movement against the Government’s actions on obesity. Following £100 million cuts to obesity services, the Prime Minister seems to disregard a health issue which is projected to cost the NHS £9.1 billion a year by 2050.

Alleviating households suffering record inflation and a cost-of-living crisis is of course the short-term priority. However, disregarding policy which could help alleviate the obesity epidemic without pulling on finances seems a risky move given the current climate.

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