While there is still some time before the restrictions on HFSS promotions and online and TV advertising come into effect in October 2025 (assuming they are not delayed again), a House of Lords Select Committee has recently taken steps to progress its inquiry into the role of foods – namely ultra-processed foods (UPF) and foods high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) – and their impact on a healthy diet and obesity. 

Key issues
The House of Lords Committee on Food, Diet and Obesity has, following its appointment in January, invited both organisations and individuals to submit evidence in relation to potential links between food and diet. 

Key topics of interest in relation to food, diet and obesity include:

  • Trends of food, diet and obesity (including the evidential basis of any such trends) and identifying primary drivers of obesity.
  • The impact of obesity on health, with specific focus on child/ adolescent health and the influence of pre- and post-natal nutrition on the risk of obesity.
  • The definition of UPF and HFSS foods, and the usefulness of these terms. 
  • How advertising, packaging, labelling, cost and availability influence a consumer’s ability to recognise UPF and HFSS foods, and how this affects health. 
  • The role of the food and drink industry in driving food and diet trends and influencing the policymaking process.
  • Learnings from the rest of the UK and international policy on obesity.
  • The effectiveness of Government policymaking processes and future policy tools that could help prevent obesity.

Report goals
The hope is that the Committee will obtain a diverse range of views, research and evidence which will allow them to make evidence-based recommendations. With a deadline for submissions on 8 April 2024, the Committee says it will report on findings by 30 November 2024. 

In particular, they anticipate they will be able to address:

  • How UPF and HFSS foods influence health outcomes;
  • How shifts in behaviours and trends have affected obesity; 
  • How government policies have influenced these shifts; and
  • The significance of the industry and wider public in shaping the public health landscape.

Assuming this deadline is met, the findings will be shared just under a year before the promotion restrictions come into force. In particular, analysis of the definitions of UPF and HFSS foods (and any variation to the scope of these definitions), findings about advertising, packaging and labelling and the significance of the food and drink industry could have an impact on the number of brands and products caught by the new regulations. 

The UK government's approach to the advertising and promotion of HFSS foods has seesawed over the past few years, with new regulations being introduced and then their application substantially delayed.  It will be of interest to see if the results of this inquiry change the government's approach, or that of an incoming government after the next General Election.