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Mayor of London Introduces ‘Junk Food’ Advertising Ban Across Travel Networks

New advertising regulations have been scrutinised for their blunt approach to ‘health’

Junk food advertising ban on TFL networks comes into force from Mayor of London Sadiq Khan Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Junk food advertising is banned on Transport for London (TfL) travel networks as of 25 February. Supported by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, the ban covers roundabouts, bus stops, Dial-a-Rides and taxis, as well as the more obvious London Underground trains, stations, buses, and bus stops. Junk food has been defined as “food and / or non-alcoholic drink[s] considered to be high in fat, sugar and salt.”

A broad spectrum of companies will be affected by this ban, comprising drinks brands, takeaways and ordering services, as well as ‘fast food’ companies and restaurants — stand by for a new battle between Uber Eats and Deliveroo over who can be the healthiest, instead of restaurant delivery fees. As well as photos of said junk food, adverts with incidental images, graphic representations or a perceived promotion of consuming these foods, will be banned.

It is important to note that existing advertising contracts will be honoured, meaning that extant adverts in breach of the new regulations will be permitted to run until their contracts have elapsed. Companies will also be able to argue a case for adverts, “if the advertiser can demonstrate, with appropriate evidence, that the product does not contribute to child obesity.” Khan’s office has already stated its intention to help brands caught up in “unintended consequences,” which reads like a tacit admission of the blunt-force nature of the regulations.

The junk food ban is a specifically aimed at tackling child obesity, with the Mayor’s office stating that “London has one of the highest child obesity rates in Europe.” It also cites 2018 research from Cancer Research U.K. that “found young people who recalled seeing junk food adverts every day were more than twice as likely to be obese” explaining that 87 percent of young people found images of foods high in salt and fat “appealing.” YouGov polling, however, suggests that children make up only 3 percent of the transport network’s advertising audience.

It is hoped that brands who have been advertising junk food, will continue to fill the slots but to promote their healthier options. Advertising Association have stated the ban will have “little impact on the wider societal issues that drive obesity” and dramatically predicted that TfL will struggle to find advertisers, meaning the loss of revenue will impact commuter fares. While this could be taken as fearmongering, there are concerns that the blanket nature of the ban will lead to complications over what is and is not considered ‘healthy.’

More soon.