TfL to Potentially Cease Junk Food Advertising
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, last week unveiled his plans in the latest draft for the London Food Strategy. The plan, which was drafted with assistance from the London Food Board, aims for "every Londoner to have access to healthy, affordable and culturally-appropriate good food regardless of where they live, their personal circumstances or income."
The reason this proposed initiative has the advertising industry talking, is because there's a proposal to put a ban on the advertising of food and drink that is not healthy across the Transport for London estate. - "The Mayor will use every means at his disposal that will help tackle child obesity, and will consult on plans to ban advertising of food and drink that is not healthy across the TfL estate." The proposed ban not only wants to limit any artwork depicting fast food, there is also a push to ban 'brand only' advertising (such as advertising using only a name or logo), which covers directional advertisements which inform potential customers as to the whereabouts of a fast-food restaurant. (It might be worth noting that the proposed ban would exclude any alcohol advertising.)
A ban of this nature would represent the largest intervention of its type in any city in the world. This will likely massively reduce the levels of exposure to junk food advertisement for the residents and commuters of London, especially considering that Transport for London's (TfL) estate accounts for 40% of London's OOH advertising space in terms of revenue. TfL, with their tube, rail, bus and road network, support around 31 million journeys daily, reaching one of the most diverse and engaged audiences in the world.
City Hall says the London has one of the highest child overweight and obesity rates in Europe, which seems plausible when there are figures which state that a wider trend in the UK indicates that 61% of adults qualify as overweight or obese, and that over 34% of children being overweight or obese by the time they finish primary school. Obesity Health Alliance and Sustain support the move. Celebrity chef and health campaigner Jamie Oliver described the proposal as 'a massive and bold step forward for child health'.
“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.”
Political correspondent, Karl Mercer says that "Advertisers will now have to decide how occasionally they wish to indulge when it comes to the big sell on London's Tube and buses." According to The Guardian, food and drink advertising gave TfL around £20 million in 2016/17 - two-thirds of which were for food and drink products which were particularly high in sugar, fat, and salt. So, what does the advertising industry think?
Outsmart, the trade body for OOH specifically, wanted to remind people about their most recent action regarding junk food advertising to children, where last year limitations were set on where food and drinks high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) could be advertised. This meant stricter controls, forbidding print, cinema, online TV, social media, and outdoor advertising of such products in media aimed at children under 16, or where children under 16 make up at least 25% of the audience. It has allowed for tactics such as a ban on OOH advertising for junk food products within 100 metres of schools (which affects 14% of all static out-of-home sites in London).
Phil Smith, director-general of the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA), said: "The draft London Food Strategy preempts the Government's upcoming Childhood Obesity Strategy, expected in the coming weeks. We are proactively engaging with our members to ensure any policy outcomes are holistic, evidence-led and proportionate responses to reduce children’s exposure to HFSS products."
Fred Roeder, managing director of Consumer Choice Center, called it "heavy-handed and paternalistic". Hilary Ross, head of retail, food and hospitality at DWF, said: "Focusing on advertising alone is like using a ‘sticking plaster’ to mend a broken limb and fails to tackle the real issue.
Stephen Woodford, chief executive of the Advertising Association, said that said: "Our industry is always ready to play our role in supporting evidence-based and proportionate action around responsible advertising. International experience and independent research has shown an advertising ban would have little impact on the wider societal issues that drive obesity. Obesity is caused by the interaction of many complex factors and requires a multi-faceted solution, such as that implemented in Amsterdam, which majored on helping people change their diet and exercise patterns."
Woodford mentions Amsterdam, so what really happened there? Amsterdam took a city-wide approach led by political leaders, and banned junk food advertising on its metro system under the city council’s alliance with the Stop Kindermarketing campaign. The scheme resulted in a 12% reduction in childhood obesity.
We can also look at the academic literature. Assistant Professor of Marketing at the University of Chicago, Ben Shapiro, studied whether advertising of specific antidepressant products increased sales, and his results found a strong market expansion effect. In 2011, Gortmaker et al state that “marketing of food and beverages is associated with increasing obesity rates”, whilst referring to work by Goris et al's work published in 2010, which states that advertising is especially effective among children.
London, however, may have another British city to compete with in regards to this. Adblock Bristol is an organisation which regularly lobbies against corporate advertising in Bristol's outdoor spaces. They are now calling for Bristol City Council to impose tougher measures than what Kahn has outlined. Robbie Gillett from Adblock Bristol said: "The moves by the London Mayor are an important first step in acknowledging the negative social impacts that outdoor advertising can have on us - and Bristol should take note. Protesters want junk food and fast-food adverts banned "Whether it's junk food, new polluting cars or photo-shopped models trying to sell us products, we should be taking collective action against outdoor advertising to address issues of obesity, air quality, debt, consumerism and mental health problems."
The consultation only has a few weeks to come to an end, being on the 5th of July. Shortly after, I'm sure countless individuals will be waiting to hear the London Food Link's response.
In my opinion, this doesn't seem to be something which anybody can predict a proper result for. However, if London does become the first regional power of its kind to undergo such a scheme then I am happy for it. Let's say it works: then people (not just children) could get less fat. This means that they'll probably be healthier, and how can that be a bad thing? If it doesn't work, I'm sure Londoners would survive their morning commutes without being told to scoff a Bacon McMuffin at 7am. I would love for London to be a world leader on this issue.