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The UK is one of Europe’s worst ‘nanny states’ for food and drink


It comes as both major parties plan stricter restrictions on marketing and advertising of unhealthy foods in England.

This fall, a ban on ‘buy one, get one free’ for unhealthy food and drinks will come into effect.

Restrictions on TV and online ads for junk food are planned for 2025, after a series of delays, angering health activists.

Labor has suggested it could introduce a new tax on sugary and salty foods after the cost-of-living crisis eases. Sir Keir Starmer has also said the party will ban the marketing of junk food to children on TV and social media.

Overall, the UK was ranked 11th out of the 30 worst countries for lifestyle restrictions, up one spot since the last ranking in 2021.

However, the UK and Ireland were found to have the most liberal e-cigarette policies.

Christopher Snowdon, author of the report and head of Lifestyle Economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs, said: “With the UK introducing some of the world’s most nanny food policies, it’s no surprise that it’s in the rankings rises against fierce competition. The UK ranks poorly in every category except e-cigarettes where it tops the show.

“With alcohol taxes soaring this year and more food regulation coming, it’s only going to get worse,” he said.

‘Paternalistic’ policy

The think tank said the findings show the UK government is “getting more meddling in people’s lifestyles”, making Britain one of the most authoritarian countries for the regulation of food and soft drinks, tobacco and alcohol.

Researchers said that despite the proliferation of regulation, there is little evidence that “paternalistic” policies are effective.

They said they found no correlation between stricter drinking, eating, smoking and vaping regulations and countries with higher life expectancies.

“Compulsive nanny state policies create a number of problems and costs. ‘Sin taxes’ increase the cost of living and harm the poor. High prices feed the black market and lead to corruption. Advertising bans restrict competition and hinder innovation,” the report states.

Pointing to the strong relationship between wealth and life expectancy, the authors say, “This suggests that the pursuit of economic growth would yield far greater health benefits than compulsive attempts to control personal behavior with prohibitions and taxes.”

The report also points to the increase in restrictions in most countries.

‘Threats to public health’

“Twelve of the 30 countries now have taxes on sugary drinks ranging from 7 cents to 30 cents per litre. In 2017, that was down to five — not bad growth for an anti-obesity policy that has never led to a reduction in obesity anywhere,” say the authors.

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “Smoking and obesity cost the NHS billions of pounds a year and are the biggest causes of cancer, and tackling these threats to public health will save health care money and help reduce NHS- reduce waiting lists.

“We are taking steps to balance the need to address these issues with the importance of individual choice, taking measures such as calorie labeling on menus to empower people to make informed personal choices about their lifestyle.

“These measures will also save money. For example, introducing restrictions on where less healthy food is placed in supermarkets is expected to generate health benefits of more than £57 billion and NHS savings of more than £4 billion.

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