What is junk food?


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The term ‘junk food’ has no legal definition and its use by campaigners gives a misleading impression of how much food and drink will be affected by government proposals in the Childhood Obesity Strategy.

Policies that restrict ‘junk food’ will actually restrict HFSS food (high in fat, sugar and salt) as defined by the Nutrient Profiling Model which classifies a vast range of meals and products as ‘less healthy’. It takes no account of how food is eaten and in what quantities in the overall diet. HFSS food includes raisins, sultanas, most tinned fruit, most yoghurts, two-thirds of morning goods, nearly all cheese (including half-fat cheese), cream crackers, tomato soup, hummus, ham, pesto, cereal bars, olive bread, salami, many pasta sauces, butter, margarine and 25 per cent of sandwiches.

The bar set by the Nutrient Profiling Model is in the process of being raised even higher. Under the new system, some snacks recommended by the NHS as ‘smart swaps’ will become ‘junk food’, as will some of the ‘5-a-day’ recommended by Public Health England, including pure orange juice.

Under government proposals in the Childhood Obesity Strategy, HFSS products will be subject to pricing, promotion and advertising restrictions, including a 9pm broadcast advertising ban, a ban on price promotions (such as meal deals and buy-one-get-one-free) and a display ban at shop entrances, checkouts and at the end of aisles. Far from affecting a small range of ‘junk food’, these laws would affect a vast array of foods that have been consumed safely for centuries.

Polling companies should avoid the term ‘junk food’ in surveys. The legally meaningfully term HFSS should be used (and explained) instead. Politicians and journalists should also familiarise themselves with the definition of HFSS and give the public an accurate impression of the range of food and drink products that will be impacted by further government regulation.

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