Sefton Council bans junk food adverts in bid to tackle obesity problem

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The move aims to reverse rising levels of obesity.

Junk food adverts are set to be banned in one area of Merseyside as councils seek to reverse rising levels of obesity, inequality and reduce the impact of climate change.

A new report submitted to Sefton Council on Thursday (April 4) said there is evidence advertisements for unhealthy food and drink products directly and indirectly impact what we eat. It said: “Young people who recall seeing junk food adverts every day are more likely to be obese.”

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Sefton has high rates of child and adult excess weight and widening health inequalities. Data taken from the National Child Measurement Programme show Sefton’s rates of children living with obesity generally rises with increasing deprivation.

In 2021/22, the Y6 obesity rate in the most deprived quintile (28.7%) was more than 1.5 times that of children living in the least deprived quintile (17.2%). To help tackle this problem, Sefton Council proposes to introduce new legislation which means junk food advertisements will no longer be used on council owned spaces.

Sefton’s report cited initiatives by other local authorities who have adopted advertising restrictions on all food and non-alcoholic drink products that are high in fat, salt and/or sugar (HFSS). For some councils, these spaces have included bus stops, taxi wraps and stations.

Sefton Council has banned fast food ads on its billboards. Image: Happy_lark via Stock AdobeSefton Council has banned fast food ads on its billboards. Image: Happy_lark via Stock Adobe
Sefton Council has banned fast food ads on its billboards. Image: Happy_lark via Stock Adobe | Happy_lark via Stock Adobe

Sefton Council’s cabinet meeting heard evidence from other local authority areas which shows restrictions of junk food advertisements can lead to a reduction in calories purchased and therefore, helps to further healthier lifestyle choices. However, the statistics show the challenge is stark. The report examined the significant inequalities in child excess weight levels with higher rates reported for children living in disadvantaged households, children with disabilities and children from specific ethnic backgrounds. Both children and adults from lower socioeconomic groups are 50% more likely to be exposed to adverts for HFSS.

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In guidance for prospective clients wanting to utilise council-owned spaces, Sefton Council may request evidence of the nutrition information of food and drink products clients wish to advertise. The local authority has stipulated it is the responsibility of advertisers and their agents to verify the status of the products featured using the NPM.

The UK Nutrient Profiling Model (NPM) is a widely used tool which has been subject to rigorous scientific scrutiny and review and its scoring system balances the contribution made by beneficial nutrients important in children’s diets with components in food that children should eat less of. Therefore, the council concluded the NPM model is the best way of identifying food that contributes to child obesity. It has helped to identify how HFSS food and drink is not only purchased directly by children but is bought for them by others.

Additionally, Sefton Council said they expect any laboratory used for nutrition analysis to have ISO 17025 accreditation and this should be by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS).

Recommendations to support the ban on junk food advertising in Sefton were approved by the cabinet and will come into effect this year. However, the proposed restrictions would not affect the services that are currently advertised on these sites and would allow local services to continue using council owned sites.

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Earlier this year, Knowsley council became the first local authority in the North West of England to restrict unhealthy food and drinks adverts in its area. The measures were introduced to protect local adult and child health and will be in place across all the authority’s advertising estate.

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