Junk food advertising would be banned from the entire Transport for London network under bold proposals unveiled today by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, as part of his drive to tackle the ‘ticking timebomb’ of child obesity.
London has one of the highest child overweight and obesity rates in Europe, with almost 40 per cent of children aged 10 and 11 overweight or obese.
Children from poorer areas of the capital are disproportionately affected, with young people in Barking and Dagenham almost twice as likely to be overweight as children from Richmond.
Sadiq believes it is a scandal that so many children are overweight or obese in a city as prosperous as London – and is today calling on the Government to treat the issue as a priority by joining him in the fight against child obesity.
He is consulting on proposals to ban advertisements for unhealthy food and drink that are high in fat, salt or sugar across the entire Transport for London (TfL) estate, including the London Underground, London Overground and the capital’s buses and bus shelters, as part of a package of measures to take on child obesity.
The groundbreaking plans are a key part of the Mayor’s draft London Food Strategy, published Friday 11 May for consultation.
Research by the National Centre for Social Research and Cancer Research UK has shown that advertising of unhealthy foods – particularly when aimed at children – creates extra pressure on children and families when it comes to choosing what to eat and drink.
Sadiq is committed to help Londoners make healthy food choices and aims significantly to reduce the unacceptable level of child obesity in London by 2028, as well as tackling the stark differences between boroughs in the city.
He has also proposed a ban on new hot food takeaways opening within 400 metres of schools as part of his draft London Plan and recently appointed the Chair and Vice-Chair of London’s first Child Obesity Taskforce, which will meet for the first time later this year.
Other proposals in the Mayor’s draft London Food Strategy include funding the development of plans by London boroughs to make better food more widely available across London.
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “Child obesity in London is a ticking timebomb and I am determined to act. 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.
“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. That is why I’m proposing to ban adverts for harmful junk food from our entire Tube and bus network. 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.”
Founder of Bloomberg LP and Bloomberg Philanthropies, three-term mayor of New York City and the World Health Organization’s Global Ambassador for Noncommunicable Diseases, Michael R. Bloomberg, said: “Obesity has become a global epidemic, and children face a lifetime of health problems unless we take bolder steps to confront it.
“This policy by Mayor Khan sets a great example that other cities can learn from.”
Chef and campaigner, Jamie Oliver, said: “Sadiq Khan today takes a massive and bold step forward for child health in London. This is a game-changing moment, protecting kids from relentless junk food advertising on their daily journeys to school and around our amazing city. Putting their health first shows others what strong leadership looks like.
“London now has the most overweight and obese children of any major global city. Sadiq is starting to use everything within his power to tackle this head on. 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!”
Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, said: “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.
“Children are inundated with adverts for unhealthy food so this is a really encouraging move and a bold step in the right direction.”
President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Professor Russell Viner, said: “Obesity is having a huge impact on communities up and down the country, particularly those living in deprived areas, and one of the leading contributors for its growth is advertising. We know junk food advertising influences children’s food choices and children from deprived communities are more likely to be exposed to junk food marketing.
“It is therefore vital, especially in cities like London where deprivation is high, that it is tackled. This bold move from the Mayor of London is congratulated by the RCPCH. It gives a clear example of how others can utilise their powers to protect child health in their own communities and we urge others to follow suit.”
Chair of the London Food Board & CEO of Chamber-member GCDA Claire Pritchard, said: “The Mayor’s draft London Food Strategy aims to help all Londoners, communities, food businesses and local authorities make the most of the opportunities food presents to tackle the challenges we face.
“Child obesity is one of London’s biggest challenges. I welcome this ambitious step taken by the Mayor, which recognises the barriers families face when trying to make healthy food choices and the influence advertising has on our families and communities.”
London GP and Mayoral health advisor, Dr Tom Coffey, said: “I see the consequences of child obesity on a daily basis in my surgery.
“My GP colleagues will be delighted that the Mayor of London is doing what he can to reverse this growing problem.”
Chair of the Mayor of London’s Child Obesity Taskforce, Paul Lindley, said: “I am delighted that the Mayor has made such a bold proposal to ban all junk food ads across London’s public transport network. It really is a strong signal of leadership and intent to tackle the scourge of child obesity across the city.
“Child obesity is a complex issue fuelled by an increasingly obesogenic environment especially faced by poorer communities. I believe every child in London deserves a healthy start to life – this proposal will help more families make healthier food choices.”
Statutory Health Advisor to the Mayor and Regional Director for Public Health England, Professor Yvonne Doyle, said: “I am delighted that London is once again leading the way with innovative plans to tackle high levels of child obesity. This proposal would be the largest of its kind in the world, given the size of the TfL estate, and the first of a number of big steps which London has committed to deliver under the devolution deal.
“Londoners have told us that this is the type of action they’d like to see to change the unhealthy environment our children are growing up in. London is turning its back on unhealthy food and drink and I look forward to seeing the future benefits of these plans.”
Founder and CEO of Mumsnet, Justine Roberts, said: “Encouraging children to eat a wide, healthy range of foods can be pretty tricky, and lots of parents will be grateful for measures that reduce pester power.
“Food manufacturers have done well in bringing down salt levels in everyday foods, making it easier for families to be healthier; it would be great if they could collectively act on sugar and fat to help parents ensure that children have a balanced diet.”
Director of Transport Strategy at TfL, Lilli Matson, said: “As the capital’s strategic transport authority, we have a crucial role in the health of all Londoners. We also have a large advertising estate with a very diverse audience covering all ages.
“Asking Londoners what they think about only allowing healthier foods and drink to be advertised on our network, along with our work to encourage people to lead a more active lifestyle, are just some of the ways we are supporting the Mayor’s transport strategy to help make our city a healthier place for people to live in, work and visit.”
Cancer Research UK’s director of cancer prevention, Alison Cox, said: “This is a really great step for London, where junk food advertising dominates in some boroughs. Our research shows that young people are more than twice as likely to be obese if they can remember seeing a junk food advert every day compared to those who couldn’t recall any over a month.
“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.
“Bold moves must be taken to reduce rates of children’s obesity. An obese child is more likely to become an obese adult, which increases the risk of cancer. Every year around 22,800 cases of the disease in the UK are linked to being overweight.”
Chief Executive of Diabetes UK, Chris Askew, said: “With more than one in three children across England either obese or overweight by the time they leave primary school, it’s clear that we need bold and far-reaching action to give young people the best possible chance of a healthy future.
“Diabetes UK welcomes this consultation, as it is clear indication from the Mayor of London that he is taking the issue of child obesity – and the impact junk food advertising has on obesity rates – seriously.
“We look forward to the outcome of the consultation, and hope that this forward-thinking step from the Mayor of London inspires Government to look at the broader issue of junk food advertising – including on TV at peak family viewing time.”