New policy will take unhealthy food out of the spotlight in a borough where more than half of Year 6 students are now overweight or obese.
Tower Hamlets in East London has become the latest local authority 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 children's health and will be in place across all of their advertising estate.
Tower Hamlets is the seventh 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. Six other local authorities across the UK have brought in a policy: Haringey, Southwark, Merton, Greenwich, Bristol and Barnsley.
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 their 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. Laws to restrict unhealthy food adverts have been paused, despite being a key part of the government's own obesity strategy. National Government committed to a total online and 9pm TV watershed restriction of unhealthy food advertising. However, they have failed to see these policies commence. Under Rishi Sunak’s government, they were delayed by a further 2 years in December 2022, a delay which pushes them back three years after the date they originally committed to. This comes after the Obesity Health Alliance’s research this week found that 8 out of 10 adults support the Government restricting unhealthy food advertising to children on TV (79%) and online (81%).
Fran Bernhardt, Children's Food Campaign Coordinator, Sustain said:
We’re delighted to have worked with Tower Hamlets Council to remove the advertising spotlight off unhealthy foods and drinks. They join a growing movement of local authorities taking a stand for child health with more than 100 councils coming to Sustain for advice on their own policies. This evidence-based policy has now become a no-brainer of a public health intervention and we hope the terrific news from Tower Hamlets will inspire councils everywhere to take this important step for child health.
Mayor Lutfur Rahman said:
“The environment where children grow up is incredibly influential and has an impact on their opportunities to be healthy.
The increase in child obesity highlights how important it is for our neighbourhoods to provide and promote affordable, healthy food options and safe places for children to be active and play. This policy is part of a much larger programme of work to promote child health in the borough and will contribute towards the council’s priority to reduce health inequalities.
We hope this will encourage other organisations in Tower Hamlets to adopt a similar policy.”
The impacts of eating unhealthy foods have far-reaching consequences, including an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and poor mental health. By limiting the promotion of unhealthy food and drink, the council aims to shift the narrative towards healthier options, supporting residents to make positive changes.
Councillor Gulam Kibria Choudhury, lead member for Health, Wellbeing and Social Care said:
“After consulting with local residents including young people, parents and businesses, it was clear that this policy was supported.
All children have a right to be given the same chances to thrive and be healthy, no matter where they live. We can build a brighter future for all our children by making sure that our neighbourhoods provide affordable, healthy food options and places where they can play.”
We will work with existing as well as any future businesses, to make sure they can advertise healthy food and drink.”
Katharine Jenner, Obesity Health Alliance Director said:
Across the country, we hear from local leaders who are eager to make their communities healthier, but often lack the powers and resources to do so. Unsurprisingly, voters feel let down by the lack of action on child health at government level and want to empower their local communities. Tower Hamlets is setting a brave and bold example to all council leaders – more power to them!
Our recent YouGov polling showed that 76% of the UK population think councils should be able to restrict unhealthy food and drinks advertising where children congregate, and this support was felt all over the country and for voters of all national parties.
The announcement chimes with Greater London's commitment to healthier food advertising policies as part of the Partnership for Healthy Cities, a prestigious global network of cities committed to save lives by preventing noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) and injuries.
If your local authority is interested in introducing a policy to restrict HFSS advertising, check out Sustain's toolkit for local authorities.
Published 25 May 2023
Children's Food Campaign: Better food and food teaching for children in schools, and protection of children from junk food marketing are the aims of Sustain's high-profile Children's Food Campaign. We also want clear food labelling that can be understood by everyone, including children.