For children and adults in the UK, unhealthy food is in the spotlight everywhere.
Online, on TV, in supermarkets – promotions and advertising put calorie-dense and unhealthy food centre stage. The promotion, affordability, availability and consumption of such foods are among the main drivers of obesity, a public health challenge that threatens the health of adults and children alike.
Our newly published report examines the impact of four obesity prevention policies either recently implemented by the UK government, or scheduled for future implementation, finding that their combined net benefit to the UK over 25 years is estimated to be over £76 billion.
These policies work to push unhealthy food out of the spotlight and redress the balance with the healthy food that children need to thrive. The first three policies relate explicitly to HFSS (high in fat, sugar, or salt) food and drink products, while the fourth is a tax on sugary drinks:
- Restricting checkout, end-of-aisle, and store entrance sales of HFSS food and drinks high in fat, salt and sugar, implemented in October 2018
- Restricting volume promotions for HFSS products, scheduled for future implementation
- Introducing a 2100-0530 watershed on TV and online restriction for paid advertising of food and drink that are HFSS, scheduled for future implementation
- Soft Drinks Industry Levy (SDIL), implemented in April 2018
In England, overweight or obesity affects more than one third of children aged 10-11, as well as the majority (63%) of adults. The conditions increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and cancer, and cost the NHS an estimated £6.5bn per year, as part of an overall cost to society of up to £54 billion per year.
Obesity also exacerbates inequities as children growing up in more deprived areas are at much higher risk of suffering from obesity than their more affluent peers.
When advertising, promotions, and product placement actively encourage us to consume unhealthy foods, it is clear that we need policies that modify this obesogenic environment. This is consistently reflected in the scientific literature: interventions that change the environment to make healthy food the easy, affordable, and attractive option can effectively help us to live more healthily.
Our report finds that in appropriately targeting these environmental factors, the four evidence-based policies are of substantial benefit to the UK, both from a health and economic perspective. Cumulatively, the UK government has estimated that these four obesity prevention policies will contribute a total net present social value (NSPV) to the UK of between £1.75 billion to £296 billion over 25 years, with a mid-range best estimate of over £76 billion.
While there are some costs to industry associated with the implementation of these policies (£6.3bn), these are significantly outweighed by the benefits to society – in the form of NHS savings (£4.5bn), social care savings (£5.1bn), increased economic output and productivity (£7.2bn), and health benefits to individuals (£62bn), as presented in the table below.
We examine some of the assumptions underpinning the government’s own analysis of the policies, finding that on a whole it is more likely that benefits, rather than costs, have been underestimated. Finally, we discuss how such obesity prevention policies enjoy considerable public support, and how they positively address existing social and health inequalities.
Table 1. Benefits, costs, and NPSV of selected obesity prevention policies (all values are £m over 25 years)
|Policy||Total Benefits (range, £m)||Total Costs (range, £m)||Net Present Social Value (range, £m)||Implementation status (as of 01/11/2022)|
|Soft Drinks Industry Levy (SDIL)||3,956||2||3,954||Implemented 06/04/2018|
|Restricting locational sales of HFSS products||73,648
|Restricting volume promotions for HFSS products||3,065
|Scheduled for implementation 01/10/2023|
|Introducing a 2100-0530 watershed on TV and online advertising of HFSS products||2,258
|Scheduled for implementation 01/01/2024|
|Total (central estimates, £m)||80,669||6,320||76,607|
The benefits presented for the SDIL in this report only cover the revenue expected from the tax, as the Impact Assessments we reviewed did not provide a £ figure for the health benefits associated with this policy. The NPSV associated with the SDIL presented in this report is therefore likely to be underestimated. Whilst out of scope for our review, peer-reviewed academic studies that can be used to estimate the NPSV of SDIL do exist, such as this paper