Junk food ads: Leon co-founder quits as government food tsar, blaming Tory inaction on obesity

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Henry Dimbleby has stepped down as food tsar after five years, after the government pushed back new junk food advertising rules a second time

A government adviser on food issues has quit the role after five years, hitting out at the failure of the Conservative Party to rein in the junk food industry and tackle obesity.

Henry Dimbleby, formerly the lead non-executive board member of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, announced his decision to quit over the weekend as he criticised the “insane” failure to act. His decision, first reported in The Sunday Times, comes amid his frustration at government inaction on the issue.

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This failure was creating “huge problems” for the future, and for the NHS, he said. Mr Dimbleby, a co-founder of the Leon restaurant chain, has been speaking as he promotes a new book on diet and food systems.

“I think the ideology of the Conservative Party and the way they are dealing with the problem of diet-related disease makes no sense,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

A government adviser on food issues has quit the role after five years, hitting out at the failure of the Conservative Party to rein in the junk food industry. Photos: Adobe StockA government adviser on food issues has quit the role after five years, hitting out at the failure of the Conservative Party to rein in the junk food industry. Photos: Adobe Stock
A government adviser on food issues has quit the role after five years, hitting out at the failure of the Conservative Party to rein in the junk food industry. Photos: Adobe Stock | Adobe Stock

Successive governments had failed to introduce a long-promised ban on pre-watershed TV advertising for junk food, he said.

The Guardian reports a ban on ads for foods high in fat, salt and sugar before 9pm was due to come into force from January, as well as “buy one get one free” deals on junk food. However, in May 2022, it was delayed for a year by the then prime minister Boris Johnson. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s administration said in December it had now been further delayed until 2025.

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Mr Dimbleby said such a response is “misconceived in terms of its electoral popularity”.

He added: “The free market is fantastic in many ways. The role the government is to intervene to clear up mess but this modern Conservative ideology just thinks it can leave everything in the system without any intervention at all.

“We talked to people all around the country. They’re fed up of their children being marketed junk food, they want intervention, but somehow it’s got inside the heads of a certain brand of Conservative politician that this kind of thing is bad, it’s wrong, it’s ideologically not correct," Mr Dimbleby said. “And that is going to cause huge harm to the country if it isn’t reversed.”

One in three children leaving primary school are either overweight or obese, research has found, as are almost two thirds of adults in England. Findings suggest that children’s exposure to increasing junk food advertising online has contributed to the problem.

Government estimates revealed that children aged under 16 were exposed to 15 billion junk food adverts online in 2019 - a huge increase on just 700 million two years earlier.

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