Ban all junk food advertising on travel networks, says leading food researcher

A ban on junk food advertising in London should be extended across the country to help tackle the UK’s growing health crisis, according to a leading academic in health policy from Leeds Beckett University.

The ban, which came into force on 25th February, has been enforced across the capital’s public transport.

All buses, Tube and train networks run by Transport for London are now prohibited from displaying posters and adverts promoting food and drink high in fat, sugar and salt.

 The ban also applies to roundabouts, bus stops, taxis and trams.

Such a move rolled out across the country would provide a huge boost to efforts to improve the health of the UK’s children and young people, according to Dr Stuart Flint, senior research fellow in public health and obesity at Leeds Beckett University’s Carnegie School of Sport.

He said: ‘I cannot overstate the potential benefits of this policy. Children from a very young age are exposed via public transport and other forms of advertisements to the promotion of unhealthy food and drinks.

‘There is no doubt that this influences favourable attitudes among young people to these products, and they are much more likely to consume them as a result.’

Dr Flint is contributing to national and international efforts to improve health in particular in relation to obesity. He has contributed to work through the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Obesity and All-Party Parliamentary Group on a Fit and Healthy Childhood, and has been invited to speak at the World Congress on Interventional Therapies for Type 2 Diabetes in April 2019.

He called on local authorities across the country to follow London’s lead.

Many of the companies affected by the ban claim to offer healthy alternatives.

‘Public transport companies should take more responsibility to support the health of our population – or at the very least, not encourage unhealthy behaviours,’ said Dr Flint. In 2018, Dr Flint published an article in The Lancet Public Health calling on public transport companies to take more responsibility through actively promoting positive public health.

‘This policy is needed across the UK, not just in London. Local authorities should be considering this policy and the potential impact that it could have on child and adult health nationally.

‘Junk food companies are well aware of the impact of advertising their products on and around transport. They have a captive market on the transport network, and this daily, constant exposure has a great impact on consumer attitudes and behaviour. These adverts work on a continuous and subconscious level.’

According to global health scientists network NCD-RisC, more than 40% of young people in the UK aged 5–19 years are classified within the overweight and obesity ranges.

Meanwhile, almost 43,000 children in England had operations to remove rotten teeth caused by poor diet in 2017, at a cost of about £36m to the NHS.

Dr Flint said: ‘Banning these adverts nationwide will have enormous benefits, not just in relation to the high prevalence of overweight and obesity, but also in areas such as diabetes and poor dental health.

‘Many of the companies affected by the ban claim to offer healthy alternatives; the ban doesn’t stop them from advertising these healthier options.’