Jamie Oliver has accused the Government of using families’ suffering amid the cost-of-living crisis as an “excuse” to delay tackling obesity.
The British chef presented an Eton Mess dessert to a crowd of around 200 supporters in the pouring rain outside Downing Street, which he said was “symbolic of the mess” ministers have created by postponing England’s National Obesity Strategy by one year.
The strategy aims to reduce consumption of food high in fat, sugar and salt (known as HFSS) by banning two-for-one junk food deals and television ads for it before 9pm.
Ministers said last week that it had been deferred so they can review the impact on families amid the cost-of-living crisis.
Holding a glass dish of the strawberry meringue aloft, Mr Oliver told cheering protesters that was an excuse.
The 46-year-old chef and father-of-five said: “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.
“It’s very much like the U-turn on the childhood obesity strategy that Boris Johnson’s own Government designed and passed.
“So he’s doing a U-turn on his own laws at a time when child health has never been more compromised since records began.
“It is absolutely urgent and the excuses that he’s used for not doing it are absolutely not true.”
When asked whether his campaign to ban cheap deals on junk food is out of touch at a time when families are increasingly struggling to put food on the table, Mr Oliver told the PA news agency: “This whole strategy, 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.
“And actually if you look at what Tesco said today, they are going to continue on discounts (but on) healthier and sustainable (food).
“They’ve set the tone and I’m sure others will follow.
“We want to put child health first, the strategy was looking world class and now it doesn’t.
“It’s our job to put it all back together again and make sure that we can build a better future for our kids.”
Tesco and Sainsbury’s have pledged to go ahead with a voluntary ban on two-for-one deals on junk food from October as outlined in the Government’s original plan.
Mr Oliver’s campaign has also received support from fellow celebrity chefs Gennaro Contaldo, who was at the protest, and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.
Italian chef Mr Contaldo, who is known for being Mr Oliver’s mentor, told PA: “I’m here to support Jamie because Boris Johnson has done a terrible U-turn that is not right.
“So with Jamie maybe we can put everything back.”
Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall urged Mr Johnson to “put the health of our children and our nation first” in a tweet ahead of the protest.
Apprentice chef Jack Suddaby, 27, who was dressed as a giant strawberry at the demonstration, said he was “upset” by the U-turn because he was worried about children’s health.
He told PA: “I think it’s so important that kids are eating the right food, and these deals are just useless and they’re not helping anyone – and the science backs it.
“What Jamie’s doing is just outstanding, and I thought I’d come here today dressed as a giant strawberry because it is the last straw (berry).”
Anna Taylor, executive director of the Food Foundation charity, added: “I’m here because BOGOFs on junk food are not only hurting our pockets but they’re also hurting our health, and we don’t think we need them anymore.
“It matters to me because I’m seeing what’s happening in terms of childhood obesity across the country and the impact it’s having on health and the NHS longer term.
“This not only brings a lot of suffering to families but it also is really hurting the NHS and our ability to be able to have a sustainable NHS.”
Several directors of public health from local authorities in the north of England, where childhood obesity levels are higher than in the rest of the country, have also urged Mr Johnson not to delay implementing the anti-obesity strategy.
Their open letter, co-ordinated by Food Active, a programme under the Health Equalities Group, says the delay will derail the Government’s ambition to halve childhood obesity by 2030.
Professor Matthew Ashton, director of public health at Food Active, said: “Advertising unhealthy food and drinks on TV and online platforms is not helpful for our children and we need the government’s help to put an end to this.
“If the Government is truly serious about reducing childhood obesity and levelling up inequalities in health, we ask that they don’t turn their back on the national obesity strategy now.”
However, the delay has been welcomed by some Tory MPs opposed to the State interfering in how people spend their money.