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Removing 'impulse buy' foods high in fat, salt and sugar receives support

Shoppers and retailers support a ban on junk foods at store entrances, aisle ends and checkouts in a new Southampton study.

In the UK, 26% of adults in England are obese and a further 38% are overweight. To tackle this, the UK government introduced legislation in October last year. This restricted the placement of products high in fat, salt and sugar.

New results from Southampton-led research suggest there is widespread support for this.

Interviewing over 100 people

Researchers at the University of Southampton's MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Centre and the NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre led the study. They interviewed more than 100 people across the UK’s food supply chain.

This included retailers, manufacturers, consumers, enforcement officers and health representatives. These people felt the legislation is a good first step towards tackling obesity.

The results are published in the journal BMC Medicine.

Dr Sarah Muir said: “The support from people across our food system demonstrates this government legislation is important and should be continued.

“To ensure businesses across the country can adhere to the new rules, all retailers and manufacturers need easy access to a tool that accurately measures the fat, salt and sugar content and other nutrients in products.”

Supporting businesses and closing loopholes

The study found smaller businesses would need extra support to offer healthier foods. Local authorities would also need ring-fenced resources to support compliance.

The National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) funded the study. It also involved researchers from City, University of London.

Some people interviewed raised concerns. These included the high cost of healthy products and the exemption of certain foods and businesses. People also worried some businesses may exploit loopholes to continue marketing unhealthy products.

Preeti Dhuria added: “To achieve meaningful dietary change, the people we spoke to noted that this legislation will need to be refined over time to close loopholes. They also said a long-term strategy targeting the pricing, marketing, advertising, and reformulation of foods will be needed.”

Creating a healthier shopping environment

Professor Christina Vogel, from City, University of London, labelled the plans a “world leading” move. She said they could shift the UK away from unhealthy and unsustainable diets. This was as long as they are adopted alongside other anti-obesity legislations.

Prof Vogel, Deputy Director of the Centre for Food Policy, said:

“This novel food policy marks important changes that can help create healthier shopping environments for customers. But it is essential to monitor how well it is being implemented across all store types. It is also essential to identify what more is needed for it to have maximum benefit for everyone.”

UK Government Health Minister Neil O’Brien said the research shows consumers, retailers, and manufacturers back what the government is doing to tackle obesity.

He said: “Restrictions on the placement of unhealthy foods stop shops from using children and ‘pester power’ to hassle adults into buying things. But they also reduce children’s calorie consumption, driving down obesity, and could save the NHS over £4 billion.

“These reforms are ensuring healthier food is more widely available, easily accessible, and more visible in our shops – helping everyone to live healthier lives.”

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