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Knowsley launches first healthier food advertising policy in the North West

New policy will take unhealthy food out of the spotlight in a council where almost a third of Year 6 students are now living with obesity.

People walking by in front of large billboards advertising Christmas food and groceries. Copyright: Thinglass | Shutterstock

People walking by in front of large billboards advertising Christmas food and groceries. Copyright: Thinglass | Shutterstock

Knowsley council in Liverpool City Region has become the first local authority in the North West of England to restrict unhealthy food and drinks adverts in their area. The measures, developed in collaboration with Sustain, have been introduced to protect local adult and child health and will be in place across all of their advertising estate.

Knowsley is the eleventh local authority to bring in a Healthier Food Advertising Policy, after the Mayor of London, with support from Sustain, first brought in the policy across the Transport for London network in 2019. Knowsley will also be the fifth local authority outside of London.

Evidence from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine’s evaluation of the Transport for London policy has shown that the restrictions led to a 20% reduction in sugary products, and a 1000 calorie decrease per week per household from unhealthy foods and drinks. Further modelling research from the University of Sheffield has estimated that across London, the restriction will lead to 95,000 fewer cases of obesity, 3000 fewer cases of diabetes and 2000 fewer cases of heart disease and save the NHS £218million over the lifetime of the current population.

Transport for London also announced that its advertising revenues have been unaffected by the restrictions since implementation in 2019. In the first year of the policy, revenues went up by £2.3 million, and in the second year (2020-21), despite financial losses due to Covid lockdowns at the time, the restrictions enabled the advertising figures to be maintained.

While local authorities are taking action, national government has stalled on anti-obesity measures. In 2020, The Government announced plans to restrict unhealthy food adverts, including a total online and 9pm TV watershed as a key part of the government's obesity strategy. These were due to be implemented in January 2023. However, in December 2022 the national Government delayed these to October 2025 - a delay which pushes them back three years after the date they originally committed to. This comes after the Obesity Health Alliance’s research found that 8 out of 10 adults support the Government restricting unhealthy food advertising to children on TV (79%) and online (81%).

Fran Bernhardt, Commercial Determinants Coordinator, Sustain said:

We’re delighted to have worked with Knowsley to make them the first Council in the North West to introduce a healthier food advertising policy. Ten other Councils have already introduced policies and 100 more have approached us for support to bring one in. So, Knowsley is part of a growing movement of Councils acting to prioritise their residents' health.

Evidence shows that putting the spotlight on unhealthy food makes people eat more of it, leading to worse health. We also know that companies target low income areas, resulting in those people being more likely to experience poor health.

We hope the terrific news from Knowsley will inspire even more Councils to take this important step for their residents’ health. We also call on the national government to support remaining Councils to implement these changes, as well as introducing a watershed on TV and online so we can take unhealthy food out of the spotlight.

Sarah McNulty, Knowsley Director of Public Health said:

We are particularly concerned about the recent increase in childhood overweight and obesity and the impact that advertising for this type of food and drink has on children. This policy is a really important step and demonstrates the Council's commitment to this agenda and to reducing health inequalities. 
In Knowsley we are working on various ways to promote healthy lifestyles and this is just one example of this. We recognise how important it is that our residents have access to affordable, good quality food and space to play and be active. Knowsley is leading the way across the North West in safeguarding our advertising sites from unhealthy advertising and are committed to supporting other local authorities and partners to do the same.

If your local authority is interested in introducing a policy to restrict HFSS advertising, check out Sustain's toolkit for local authorities.

You can read Knowsley Council's announcement here

Published Wednesday 17 January 2024

Good Food Local: Good Food Local supports local authorities to prioritise good food and commit to action on a breadth of food issues.

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