TfL junk food ads ban will tackle child obesity

Junk food advertising will be banned on the entire Transport for London (TfL) network from 25 February 2019, as a new groundbreaking measure to help tackle child obesity in London. Food and drink brands, restaurants, takeaways and delivery services will only be able to place adverts which promote their healthier products, rather than simply publicising their brands.

With 30 million journeys made every day on TfL’s network, its advertising sites offer a key opportunity to promote good food and a healthy lifestyle to both children and their family members or carers.

The Mayor is supporting work to encourage healthy eating including the ‘Veg Power’ campaign, led by the Food Foundation and backed by chefs and campaigners Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver. London has one of the highest child obesity rates in Europe. Almost 40 per cent of the capital’s children aged 10 and 11 are overweight or obese.

A public consultation launched in May found 82 per cent of Londoners support a junk food advertising ban [1]. The move is also backed by public health experts.

There is a growing body of evidence that the more children are exposed to advertising for less healthy foods, whether on TV, on the internet, or via outdoor advertising, the higher the risk of increasing their consumption of those foods and of becoming overweight or obese.

A report published in 2018 by Cancer Research UK found young people who recalled seeing junk food adverts every day were more than twice as likely to be obese. The same study found 87 per cent of young people found adverts for high fat, salt and sugar products appealing, with three-quarters tempted to eat a product after seeing such an advert.

Children from more deprived areas of the capital are disproportionately affected, with young people in Barking & Dagenham almost twice as likely to be overweight as children from Richmond. This week, new figures from Diabetes UK revealed a huge rise in the number of children and young people across the country diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. Nearly 7,000 young Britons now suffer with the disease.

The advertising restrictions will come into effect from 25 February 2019 and will mean:

  • advertisements that directly feature food and/or non-alcoholic drink considered to be high in fat, sugar and salt will not be permitted. Examples of products that would not be accepted are sugary drinks, cheeseburgers, chocolate bars and salted nuts, while unsalted nuts, raisins and sugar-free drinks would be accepted
  • a requirement for food and drink brands, restaurants, takeaways and ordering services to promote their healthier food and drink instead of just advertising their brand
  • incidental images, graphical representations and references to food and/or non-alcoholic drinks that promote the consumption of foods high in fat, sugar and salt will not be permitted
  • advertisements for food and non-alcoholic drink that are considered to be high in fat, salt, sugar may be considered for an exception by TfL if the advertiser can demonstrate, with appropriate evidence, that the product does not contribute to child obesity

The restrictions will apply across TfL’s advertising estate, this includes Underground, TfL Rail, Buses, Overground, Docklands Light Railway, roads (eg adverts on roundabouts and bus stops owned by TfL), River Services, Tram, Emirates Air Line, Victoria Coach Station, Dial-a-Ride and Taxi and private hire.

Childhood obesity in numbers

  • 82%
    of Londoners
    support a junk food advertising ban
  • 7,000
    young people in London
    suffer from diabetes
  • 87%
    of young people
    found adverts for high fat, salt and sugar products appealing
  • 40%
    of London's children
    aged 10-11 are overweight or obese

Further information on the revised advertising policy and associated guidance is available on the TfL website.


[1] The consultation on the proposal to “ban advertising of unhealthy food on TfL’s estate to help tackle London’s child obesity epidemic” received overwhelming public support, with only 20% of a YouGov [A] poll of more than 1,000 Londoners against a full ban. Further public consultation took place on Talk London [B], where 82% of more than 1,500 Londoners supported the proposals.

  • [A] Representative sample of more than 1,000 Londoners
  • [B] Non-representative, self-selecting sample of more than 1,500 Londoners

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