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​UK Supermarkets and the Challenge of Regulating Unhealthy Food Placement

​UK Supermarkets and the Challenge of Regulating Unhealthy Food Placement

Posted by Emily on 6th Dec 2023

A recent investigation has highlighted a significant issue in England's supermarkets – non-compliance with regulations aimed at curbing childhood obesity. These regulations, targeting the strategic placement of products like crisps, sweets, and fizzy drinks, intend to diminish children's influence on their parents' buying choices, commonly known as "pester power."

couple shopping in supermarket

The Obesity Health Alliance (OHA) and Food Active's survey of 25 stores found that about a quarter still prominently display "less healthy" items at checkouts or aisle ends, a concern that extends to online shopping platforms. This revelation comes a year after the English government implemented laws to discourage displaying high-fat, salt, or sugar (HFSS) products in large supermarkets.

In contrast, Scotland awaits similar regulations, and Wales plans to adopt them in 2025.

A key issue identified in the report "Location, location, location" is the insufficient resources available for trading standards officers to monitor compliance, coupled with a lack of awareness among some store managers about the new rules.

Katharine Jenner, director of OHA, recognises progress in some areas, like reducing sweets at checkout points. However, she points out that adherence to these regulations often lacks genuine commitment to health, focusing more on technical compliance. The report also notes certain policy loopholes that allow visibility for many unhealthy products.

These regulations primarily target larger retail establishments, with specific exceptions based on store size and employee numbers. Notably, not all food products fall under these regulations; for example, certain smaller ice creams are exempt.

confectionery aisle in supermarket

The government has postponed implementing certain bans on multibuy offers and advertising unhealthy food to children until 2025. This delay, supported by some Conservative MPs due to economic concerns, contradicts Public Health England's findings on the financial implications of such offers.

Experts like Prof Matthew Ashton from Food Active and Dr. Kawther Hashem from Action on Sugar emphasise the importance of regular legislative review and stronger support for local authorities to ensure effective enforcement and protect children's health.

Your insights on this critical matter are invaluable. Please share your thoughts in the comments below to further this vital conversation.