Cancer Research UK condemns junk food promotions: ‘Special offers fuel obese shoppers’

By Flora Southey

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags HFSS Advertising Cancer research uk

Shoppers that purchase around 40-80% of goods on special offer have a greater chance of being obese, says Cancer Research UK, which is pushing for restrictions on price promotions for less healthy products.

A recent study has investigated links between obesity – one of the biggest preventable causes of cancer in the UK – and price promotions on foods high in fat, sugar or salt (HFSS).

Titled ‘Paying the price​: New evidence on the link between price promotions, purchasing of less healthy food and drink, and overweight and obesity in Great Britain’, the Cancer Research UK report looks at the habits of more than 16,000 British households.

According to its findings, three in 10 food and drink products in shoppers’ baskets are bought on promotion in Great Britain, and almost half of all chocolate, crisps, popcorn, and savoury snacks were purchased on promotion.

Shoppers who bought around 40-80% of food and drink products on special offer had a greater chance of being overweight, in fact obesity was almost 30% higher among people from households which purchased the most food and beverage items on special promotions, compared to those who bought the least.

“This study [demonstrates that] in Great Britain, high use of price promotions is associated with a significantly increased prevalence of overweight and obesity,” ​confirmed Peter Scarborough, associate professor at the Nuffield Department of Population Health at the University of Oxford.

“Crucially, it also found that increased promotional purchasing is associated with increased purchasing of discretionary food categories and foods which are high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS), at the cost of healthier foods such as fruit and vegetables.”

promotion purchasing group
Prevalence of overweight (BMI ≥ 25 and 30) and obesity (BMI ≥30) in main shoppers by household promotional purchasing group. Source: Cancer Research UK

Cancer Research UK has called on the UK, Scottish and Welsh governments to act, recommending they introduce restrictions on price promotions for less healthy food and drink items, with initial focus on multi-buy offers.

Restrictions should also be introduced on location-based promotions for unhealthy food and drink items, such as at store entrances, at the end of supermarket aisles and at checkouts. 

“Promotional items offer people a wealth of tempting yet unhealthy food and drink choices when doing their weekly shop. With cut-price deals on things like chocolate, biscuits, cakes and fizzy drinks, it’s not surprise that people who buy more on promotion have a greater likelihood of being obesity.”

“With young children frequently being the ones who suffer from the effects of these purchases, introducing restrictions is important for their future health.We know that more than one in five enter primary school overweight or obese, yet the number worsens to around one in three when they leave.”​ –  ​Cancer Research UK’s prevention expert professor Linda Bauld

The report comes just days after the UK government’s proposal to ban the advertising of HFSS foods​ on television and online.

Per the proposal, the advertising of unhealthy food and drink products would be restricted until 9pm. The initiative is part of the UK’s greater efforts to halve obesity by 2030, particularly in deprived areas.

Director of cancer prevention at Cancer Research UK, Alison Cox, voiced her support of the government’s initiative, but said more can be done.

“The government’s proposed 9pm ban on junk food ads is a step forward in fighting childhood obesity. Now we want to see restrictions on price promotions for unhealthy food and drink items, as well as those strategically-placed at checkouts. This will help families to make healthier choices.

“There isn’t one magic fix for the problem, but removing these incentives to buy unhealthy food is key to changing it.” 

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