UK health charity calls for legislation to stop in-store junk food promotion

By Oliver Morrison contact

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock
© iStock
The Royal Society for Public Health, a UK charity, is calling on the government and food industry to do more to support supermarkets in encouraging healthier choices to consumers.

The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) has called on the government to commit to legislation forcing supermarkets to promote healthier food and beverage choices.

The RSPH said store layouts were designed to tempt shoppers into making extra purchases, particularly of unhealthy options. It said supermarkets should remove junk food from shelves at eye level to help tackle the country’s obesity epidemic.

The Health on the Shelf ​report, by the RSPH and Slimming World​, said an audit of supermarkets found that four in ten products positioned in prominent areas or display units were sugary foods and drinks, and nearly nine in ten products placed at a child’s eye level throughout stores were unhealthy.

The report claimed that over one third (36%) of shoppers reported that they impulse purchase unhealthy products because they are on special offer, and one in five said supermarkets cause them to go off track when attempting to lose weight. 

During the course of one year, the report added, the average person will consume an additional 17,000 calories due to upselling of high calorie food and drink.

Shirley Cramer CBE, Chief Executive of RSPH, said that the environment in which we live is a major contributor towards obesity, and supermarkets have both the power and influence as well as a responsibility in tackling their contribution to this 'obesogenic' environment.

“There has been some progress by supermarkets in areas such as removing junk from check outs, but our research shows that shoppers and industry experts feel there is much more supermarkets can and should do to promote healthier choices – reducing the shelf allocation for unhealthy products, providing clearer labelling and signage and even changing the shopper experience,”​ she said.

“We are calling on the government to commit to legislation to support supermarkets in promoting healthier choices through legislation. If we change the environment we can encourage healthier choices for all.”  ​ 

The report said that layout, pricing and the disproportionate promotion of high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) foods are some of the ways in which supermarkets are limiting healthier choices. Consumers may not be aware of these tactics because they are normalised as part of the supermarket’s strategy.

The RSPH has designed what it believes is ideal layout of a supermarket, which will curb the practice of supermarkets nudging consumers to make unhealthy choices.

The map puts fruit and vegetables closest to the door along with other healthier foods, with unhealthy snacks are banished to the back of the store.

Standard supermarket layout
Standard supermarket layout ©RSPC

re-imagined supermarket layout
The reimagined supermarket layout ©RSPC

The re-imagined supermarket features:

  • Nudge points to encourage customers to re-consider their purchases, for example by swapping to a low-fat version;
  • Layout and shelf allocation based on what constitutes a balanced diet according to the Eatwell guide;
  • Knowledgeable and friendly staff with basic nutritional training;
  • Free samples of cheap and nutritious food and live cookery demonstrations made at the onsite kitchen, with accompanying recipe cards.

“Supermarkets will argue that they are giving their customers the choice; and we haven’t removed those choices at Nudge, all we’ve done is made it easier for customers to choose healthier alternatives and put less emphasis on promotions of foods likely to cause weight gain,” ​said Carolyn Pallister, Public Health Manager and Dietician, at Slimming World​.

The report was published in advance of the Government’s expected response to the consultation on layout and price promotions.

RSPH recommends:

  • To adopt a set of key principles to apply to all major supermarket retailers, to include:
  • Greater allocation of shelf space to healthier products, based on the Government’s Eatwell Guide; 
  • The introduction of a healthy rewards scheme;
  • Provision of recipe cards and cooking demonstrations on how to use ingredients to create healthy meals.
  • Business rate reductions for supermarkets and retailers who take health seriously by adopting key principles.
  • Explore introducing a healthy rating scheme, similar to the FSA’s Food Hygiene Rating Scheme ‘scores on the doors’, based on the proportion of healthy and unhealthy products stocked.  

Related topics: Confectionery, Diet and health, Policy

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