London Mayor to Ban Junk Food Ads On Tubes and Buses

May 12, 2018, 3:00 pm
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Source: The Guardian

Sadiq Khan calls child obesity ‘a ticking timebomb’, affecting 40% of the capital’s 10-year-olds

Junk food adverts are to be banned from London’s tube and bus network by Sadiq Khan, the city’s mayor, in an attempt to curb an epidemic of childhood obesity.

Ads that promote foods and drinks that are high in salt, fat and sugar will no longer be accepted on tubes, buses and overground trains that are part of the Transport for London (TfL) network – nor in stations. The ban is currently out to consultation.

Although adverts for full-sugar Coca-Cola would no longer be accepted under the plans, Diet Coke ads could still run. McDonald’s will be unable to advertise a Big Mac and fries but could promote its salads.

Khan’s announcement was welcomed by obesity campaigners who are pressing for Theresa May’s government to toughen up its child obesity strategy. The national plan omitted measures to curb junk food advertising seen by children online and during family TV shows such as The X Factor.

Child obesity in London, the mayor said, “is a ticking timebomb”. Almost 40% of 10- and 11-year-olds in London are obese – one of the highest rates in Europe.

Khan challenged the government to do more to stop the obesity epidemic. “If we don’t take bold steps against it we are not doing right by our young people as well as placing a huge strain on our already pressurised health service in years to come,” he said.

“It can’t be right that in a city as prosperous as London that where you live and the income you have can have a massive impact on whether you have access to healthy, nutritious food and your exposure to junk food advertising.

“I’m determined to do all I can to tackle this issue with the powers I have and help Londoners make healthy food choices for themselves and their families.”

The removal of adverts for unhealthy foods would help parents, he said. “I want to reduce the influence and pressure that can be put on children and families to make unhealthy choices.

“The government needs to step up and join this fight against child obesity, so we can achieve real progress – not just in London, but across the entire country.”

Khan is one of a number of mayors taking action in their cities. Amsterdam, as the Guardian revealed last year, has managed to bring down childhood obesity levels by 12% since 2012 through a comprehensive strategy targeted at the poorest families. This year it has brought in its own advertising ban.

Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, is supporting a healthy cities partnership through his own philanthropic foundation, which encourages mayors to take action against tobacco and sugar consumption. London is one of the partners. While mayor of New York, Bloomberg famously tried to ban supersized sugary drinks. He won huge publicity for the public health initiative although he was overruled by the New York supreme court.

Bloomberg, now the World Health Organisation’s global ambassador for noncommunicable diseases, applauded London’s proposed advertising ban. “Obesity has become a global epidemic, and children face a lifetime of health problems unless we take bolder steps to confront it,” he said. “This policy by Mayor Khan sets a great example that other cities can learn from.”

England’s chief medical officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, was also enthusiastic. “The evidence is clear that, although it is not a silver bullet, restricting the amount of junk food adverts children are exposed to will help reduce obesity,” she said.

“Children are inundated with adverts for unhealthy food so this is a really encouraging move and a bold step in the right direction.”

Food and drink advertising contributed about £20m in revenue to TfL in 2016/17 – around two-thirds of it for food and drink that was high in fat, salt and sugar. But London will probably not lose out financially in the long term. A large proportion of the ads come from big companies that may be persuaded to spend their money on ads for healthier products, such as water or fruit options.

In December last year, Khan proposed a ban on new hot food takeaways opening within 400 metres of schools. His plans are part of the London Food Strategy, which is currently out to consultation.

Chef and campaigner Jamie Oliver called on the government to do more in the imminent next phase of its obesity plan. “This surely must give Mrs May and her cabinet inspiration to do the right thing, be bold, be clear, and pull every lever they can to protect all British kids. Now is the time!” he said.

Cancer Research UK also called for government action, pointing out that obese children can become obese adults with an increased risk of cancer. In the UK, 22,800 cancer cases a year are due to being overweight. “Cancer Research UK wants to see a ban on junk food TV adverts before 9pm in the upcoming obesity strategy so that more young people can be protected from the marketing tactics used by the food industry. And we believe the government should act on this,” said Alison Cox, director of cancer prevention at the charity.

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