ONE year on from the introduction of restrictions of high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) product displays in supermarket entrances, checkouts and aisle ends, a new report from the Obesity Health Alliance and Food Active reveals the extent of compliance and calls for stronger enforcement.
The report, from the Obesity Health Alliance and Food Active, has found that after the first year of implementation, many retailers have worked hard to remove less healthy food and drink from key locations in store including the checkout, end of aisles and store entrances (and similar equivalents online). They conclude that the legislation has already proved itself to be a useful step towards shifting less healthy foods and drinks away from the spotlight in retailers and online.
However, the new Location, Location, Location report also found that some retailers may have not been acting in the spirit of the legislation, with a handful of potential breaches found both in-store and online and reported to the relevant agencies.
Professor Matthew Ashton, Lead Director of Public Health at Food Active, said, “This policy has huge potential to create a healthier environment for our local communities, and this new report shows that it has already started to have a positive impact by shifting the amount of less healthy options available away from the checkout and other key areas of the store, towards more healthy options being visible.
“However, insight with trading standards officers highlights the challenges being faced locally. Insufficient funding combined with competing priorities mean that enforcement of this important legislation is lacking. There needs to be more support for local authorities so that we can make sure retailers are fully cooperating with the legislation and hold them accountable.”
The report says that some stores were showing a “blatant disregard of the policy and children’s health”. Furthermore, they point to a number of loopholes in the legislation, which mean there are still less healthy food and drink products visible at key locations, which do not actually breach the policy.
The report also highlights the challenges that are being faced by trading standards officers. Insufficient funding combined with competing priorities mean that enforcement of this important legislation is lacking, and there is a need for greater funding, addressing current workloads and staffing issues in trading standards and finally, more training and tools to support officers to carry out inspections.
Katharine Jenner, Director of the Obesity Health Alliance, said, “It’s encouraging to see that sugary treats have been removed from checkouts across the country, and this shows that regulation can help make the healthy choice the easy choice for everyone. It also shows that unfortunately, the food industry will often only follow the letter, not the spirit, of the law. This regulation was designed to help take junk food out of the spotlight but, due to exemptions in the policy, too many unhealthy food and drink products remain highly visible both in store and online.
“More needs to be done to tackle the growing rates of child ill health- especially as the Government has surrendered to food industry demands on obesity policy overall, weakening the legislation and allowing too many junk food items to slip through loopholes.
“This policy was planned to come in alongside the much-delayed restrictions on unhealthy food advertising to children on TV and online. We are calling on the government to move ahead with this vital piece of legislation, and to publish the guidance for advertisers without further delay.”
The report contains a series of recommendations to the government, which will help to strengthen the policy as it enters its second year of operation and maximise the benefits to public health. At a glance, these recommendations include:
- Ensure adequate funding is provided to local authorities and provide greater training support officers with enforcement.
- Commit to regularly reviewing the legislation to ensure it is fit for purpose,
- Streamline the process of submitting complaints
- Consider how this legislation could be applied to the out of home sector.
- Release the consultation response for the 9pm watershed restrictions of less healthy advertising on TV and online media, and bring in the multibuy restrictions on unhealthy food as planned.