In a bid to tackle obesity in Britain, the UK Government has announced a series of anti-obesity measures, including requiring large businesses to display calorie counts on menus and banning junk food adverts online and on TV before 9pm. More recently, a national report commissioned by the Government recommended a £3 levy per kilo of sugar and £6 levy per kilo of salt sold wholesale for use in processed food, restaurants, and catering, which could add 1p to the price of chips and 7p to the price of chocolate bars. The latest research from Redfield & Wilton Strategies finds that whilst a majority of the British public supports each of these measures, many Britons are less optimistic regarding the efficacy of these measures in changing people’s eating habits.
Firstly, a plurality (42%) of the British public agrees with a statement suggesting that the Government should not seek to influence the decisions people make about their own health. In comparison, equal proportions of 27% disagree or neither agree nor disagree, whilst 4% are unsure. A Redfield & Wilton Strategies poll from July 2020 found that 37% of the British public thought that the Government should not seek to influence personal health decisions, showing a marginal increase (5%) in Britons who share this opinion over the last year. Similarly, the proportion of Britons who disagree that the Government should not seek to influence health decisions has decreased from 35% in July 2020.
There is general agreement across age groups, genders, and 2019 General Election votes that the Government should not seek to influence health decisions. Still, we observe a slight gender divide in responses, with women (45%) being more likely to agree than men (38%). Meanwhile, a slim plurality (35%) of those aged 65 or above disagree that the Government should not seek to influence health decisions. All other age groups show plurality or majority agreement with the statement, suggesting that Britons generally agree that the Government should refrain from interfering in health decisions.
However, a similar proportion of the British public (41%) also agrees with a statement suggesting it is right for the UK Government to tell people they should lose weight. A third (32%) of the public disagree, and a quarter (25%) neither agree nor disagree. These contradictory responses point to the difficulties in determining how far the Government should intervene in public health. Our latest results represent an 11-point decrease since July 2020, when 52% of Britons responded that they think it is right for the UK Government to tell people they should lose weight. Correspondingly, disagreement has risen from 25% in July 2020.
The gender divide is more pronounced in responses to this question, with an overall plurality (39%) of women disagreeing that it is right for the Government to tell people to lose weight, corresponding to their plurality agreement that the Government should not seek to influence personal health decisions. In comparison, 27% of men disagree that the Government is right to tell people to lose weight.
Nevertheless, looking at specific anti-obesity measures, a strong majority (61%) support the Government’s recent decision requiring large businesses to include calorie counts on menus and food labels starting from April 2022, with over a quarter (27%) in strong support of the policy. In comparison, just 11% of Britons oppose this decision, while 26% neither support nor oppose it. Support is strong across generational lines, with all age groups showing majority support for the measure, as do both 2019 Conservative and Labour voters.
Amidst majority support for the policy, the British public is split on whether requiring calorie counts on menus and food labels will have an impact on eating habits: 34% think it is likely to impact British people’s eating habits, but 34% think it is unlikely, pointing to considerable uncertainty about the policy’s efficacy. A further 27% think it is neither likely nor unlikely to impact eating habits, and 4% don’t know if it will have an impact.
Britons are marginally more optimistic regarding the impact of calorie counts on their own personal eating habits, with 38% thinking it is likely and 35% thinking it is unlikely that seeing calorie counts on menus and food labels will influence their eating habits. A further 25% think it is neither likely nor unlikely.
Regarding the other Government measure to reduce obesity, Britons are similarly supportive: 61% of the British public supports the decision to ban junk food adverts online and before 9pm on TV, including over a quarter (27%) who support it strongly. Alternatively,12% oppose the decision, whilst 24% neither support nor oppose it.
Men are more supportive of banning such advertisements than women, with 67% of men in support of the decision, including 30% who strongly support it, compared to a slimmer majority (55%) of women who support the measure. Further, older respondents are the most likely to support the decision to ban junk food adverts online and before 9pm on TV, as a strong majority (75%) of those aged 65 and above are in support of the measure, compared to 40% of 18-to-24-year-olds.
Finally, in light of the recommendations made by the National Food Strategy report, a plurality (45%) of Britons would support a levy on sugar and salt to discourage their consumption, whilst 28% would oppose it, and 23% would neither support nor oppose it.
When asked what they thought would happen if such levies were to be introduced, three-quarters (74%) of the British public responded that it was likely the price of products containing high amounts of sugar and salt would increase. Meanwhile, a majority of Britons (55%) think it is likely that food producers would decrease the amount of salt and sugar in their products if they were subject to a levy, an outcome which 17% find unlikely.
When asked about their personal consumption of salt and sugar, a plurality of 43% of the British public thinks it is likely they would consume fewer products containing high amounts of sugar and salt if a levy were introduced. 23% think it is unlikely their personal habits would change, and 30% think it is neither likely nor unlikely.
However, when asked about the British public, as a whole, Britons are slightly less optimistic about sugar and salt levies having an impact on eating habits. 37% think it is unlikely that the British public would consume fewer products containing high amounts of sugar and salt if a levy were introduced, followed by 30% who think it is likely, and 28% who think it is neither likely nor unlikely. The difference between public opinion concerning personal consumption habits and general consumption habits mirrors the slightly varying responses with respect to the impact of calorie counts on menus.
Further, 43% think it is unlikely that the rate of obesity in the UK would decrease if a salt and sugar levy were introduced, reflecting considerable scepticism that this broader goal will be achieved. Almost a quarter (23%) think it is likely, and 29% think it is neither likely nor unlikely.
Overall, there is strong support amongst the public for anti-obesity measures, despite plurality agreement that the Government should not seek to influence personal health decisions. Majorities or pluralities support requiring calorie counts on menus, tighter restrictions on junk food adverts, and a sugar and salt levy, with support highest for the measures due to be introduced by the Government imminently. Whilst Britons respond positively concerning the impact of these measures on their personal consumption, they are split concerning the impact of these measures on Britain as a whole.