From today, junk food advertising will be banned on the entire Transport for London (TfL) network in a bid to help tackle childhood obesity. The ban follows a public consultation, in which the majority of responders expressed support for the removal of these adverts across public transport. The ban covers all adverts for food and non-alcoholic drinks high in fat, salt and / or sugar and considered “less healthy” under Public Health England guidelines. Food and drink brands will be able to place adverts for their healthier products, however.

The Nuffield Council responded to the Mayor of London’s consultation last year based on the conclusions and recommendations of our public health report, which takes the position that every state has a duty to provide conditions that allow people to lead a healthy life. Given that children may be particularly susceptible to external influences (such as marketing by the food and drink industry) and there is evidence that their early diet has a long-term impact on health, in our report we suggested that it would be desirable not to advertise foods high in fat, salt and sugar to children by any medium. We said that regulation of the promotion of unhealthy foods and drinks to children is an example of the way in which the state might intervene to help create environments that encourage healthy behaviours.

Hugh Whittall, Director of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, said: “It’s been over ten years since we published our public health report, but it remains very relevant as in this country we continue to see rising levels of obesity. It’s good to see this positive step being taken to ban ‘junk food’ advertising on the TfL network, with the aim of helping to combat childhood obesity. The Government has an ethical duty to act to help prevent obesity, and especially to protect groups like children, where there is clear evidence of the long-term impact on their health.” Further reading: Nuffield Council on Bioethics (2007) Public health: ethical issues, Chapter 5: Case study – obesity Nuffield Council on Bioethics response to the Mayor of London’s draft London food strategy.