13 June 2023

Can the Government BOGOF out of our diets?


In October, the Department for Health and Social Care will go ahead with a ban on buy-one-get-one-free offers on foods containing a modicum of fat, sugar, or salt. Public Health England’s own analysis shows that a ban would hit household finances and save the calorie equivalent of a single grape per day. Undaunted by the sheer pointlessness of the enterprise, the Government presses on.

And it’s not just the average shopper who will suffer. Public Health England estimates that retailers will lose in inflation-adjusted figures, with manufacturers losing £660m in profits over 25 years – a price paid for in British jobs, investment, and the health of the wider economy. And all, let us reiterate, for the sake of a grape a day.

Moreover, the country is already fat with Obesity Strategy Officials. Some rumours suggest they could number in the thousands across the country, although the Government has not deigned to say precisely how many people are engaged in keeping us on the dietary straight and narrow.

Would that any of this cajoling, nannying nonsense actually had any effect. Despite years of being hectored, taxed and forbidden from eating a variety of treats, 63.3% of the British public are overweight. Banning BOGOFs is of a piece with a strategy whose only success to date has been making households worse off.

From sugary drinks to traditional British baked goods, such as pork pies and bakewell tarts, the Government seems dead-set on banning them or taxing them out of the hands of millions of people. The small luxuries of a small, especially during our cost of living crisis, are being fundamentally jeopardised by overzealous civil servants in a mindless pursuit of achieving a statistical outcome.

The key point here is that widespread obesity is a relatively new phenomenon, one that is primarily explained by sedentary offices and lifestyles, rather than substantial changes in diets. According to the Government’s own figures, Brits ate more calories per day in the late 1970s than today. Yes, there is more processed food on our plates, but there is also an unprecedented change in not-moving-about-much. That’s why smart gadgets, such as the Apple Watch, automatically remind you to stand up throughout the day, rather than lecturing you on what to eat or drink.

There’s a more basic point about personal autonomy here though, one which seems to be lost on this supposedly ‘conservative’ government: we ought to be able to feed ourselves and our families as we see fit. 

At a time when a food parcel is being distributed every 8 seconds by the Trussell Trust network, why are ministers even considering a policy as obviously misguided as banning BOGOFs. With one million food parcels distributed to children in the past year, No 10 and the Department for Health and Social Care seem dedicated to stunting their development and growth with sledgehammer policies that would have a negligible impact on private and public health.

Click here to subscribe to our daily briefing – the best pieces from CapX and across the web.

CapX depends on the generosity of its readers. If you value what we do, please consider making a donation.

Maxwell Marlow is Director of Research at the Adam Smith Institute.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.