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Boris Johnson to Crack Down on Junk Food Advertising after Brush with COVID

British prime minister Boris Johnson delivers a video message from 10 Downing Street after being released from the hospital, April 12, 2020. (Pippa Fowles/Reuters)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday announced a new effort by the U.K. government to address the country’s growing obesity problem with an aim to lower health risks amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The National Health Service’s “Better Health” campaign will ban junk food advertising on television and online before 9:00 p.m. as well as prohibit “buy one get one free” deals for foods high in salt, sugar and fat. Britain will also require calorie counts to be displayed on menus for food and beverages.

Johnson announced in April that he had tested positive for coronavirus and days later was admitted to the hospital for his symptoms. He was moved to the intensive care unit on the advice of his medical team after his symptoms worsened, an experience he described as a “wake-up call.”

“We all put things off — I know I have,” Johnson wrote in the British newspaper The Daily Express. “I’ve wanted to lose weight for ages, and like many people I struggle with my weight.”

“I go up and down, but during the whole coronavirus epidemic and when I got it, too, I realized how important it is not to be overweight,” the prime minister continued, saying he was “way overweight” when he was admitted to the hospital.

Nearly two-thirds, 63 percent, of adults in England are overweight or obese, according to the NHS. About eight percent of coronavirus patients in Britain’s intensive care units were morbidly obese despite morbidly obese people comprising just 2.9 percent of British residents, the government said. Meanwhile, health issues relating to obesity cost the NHS £6 billion a year.

Johnson’s push for the new obesity measures is a shift from his position just last year, who warned that taxes on sugary, salty and fatty foods represent the “continuing creep of the nanny state” and said they should be discontinued unless they are proven effective.

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