Ban on junk food advertising on public transport linked to reduction in obesity, study finds


Restrictions on junk food advertising on Transport for London (TfL) networks have prevented nearly 100,000 cases of obesity and could save the NHS £200million, researchers say

Since the 2019 restriction on junk food advertising on the TfL Network, researchers from the University of Sheffield and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) estimate there has been a 1,000 calorie decrease in unhealthy purchases in people’s weekly shopping.

The study, published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, suggested that limiting advertising for products high in fat, salt and sugar on transportation networks had a significant impact on people disadvantaged areas.

Researchers surveyed 1,970 people about their weekly grocery shopping and compared trends seen in London households with trends seen in the north of England, where there were no restrictions on advertising.

Using a health economic model, the researchers estimated the health benefits, cost savings and equity impacts of the TfL policy.

Modeling suggests the policy resulted in 94,867 fewer cases of obesity, 2,857 fewer cases of diabetes averted or delayed, and 1,915 fewer cases of cardiovascular disease. This was based on comparing expected trends in NHS weight and health data.

Obesity rates increased in both study geographies; however, a smaller increase was found among London participants exposed to advertising restrictions compared to unexposed participants from the North of England.

However, over the past decade, the prevalence of childhood obesity has increased by 1.9 percentage points in London and England.

Britain has one of the highest obesity rates in Europe, with two in three adults overweight or obese, and government figures suggest the NHS is spending £6.1billion on illnesses related to obesity in 2014/15.

Policies to restrict adverts for products high in fat, salt and sugar were an important part of the recent tackling obesity guidance document and in 2019 TfL introduced advertising restrictions on products high in fat, salt and sugar.

However, very few studies have looked at the health and economic impact of outdoor advertising restrictions.

“We all know how persuasive and powerful advertising can be in influencing what we buy, especially the food we eat,” said Dr Chloe Thomas from the University of Sheffield. “We hope that demonstration of the policy’s significant benefits in preventing obesity and obesity-exacerbated diseases will lead to its nationwide rollout.”

The researchers acknowledge considerable uncertainty in the data, particularly in the assumption that buying calories equals eating calories.

Their analysis found that more significant effects were seen among people who regularly used public transport, suggesting that advertising policy was indeed the reason for the difference, although they pointed out that other strategies will be also necessary if obesity levels are to be actively reduced.

Professor Steve Cummins of LSHTM added: ‘With over 80 local authorities across the UK now considering implementing similar policies, this study provides further evidence of the effectiveness of advertising restrictions in helping to support businesses. decision makers.

“This is a policy that local authorities can implement now without the need for national regulation in an effort to tackle obesity nationwide.”

It comes after research revealed last month that more than a quarter of children were on a diet, including children of a healthy weight, amid a ‘steady rise’ in the number of overweight children and obese in England.


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