Local authorities should be given greater powers to make it easier for them to impose restrictions on junk food advertising in their areas, a report has recommended.
Loopholes ripe for closure include the rules governing promotions in public telephone boxes – normally outside councils’ jurisdiction – while the remit of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) should be extended to advertising not only near schools but also nurseries, children’s centres, parks, family attractions and leisure centres, it said.
The report from the health campaign groups Sustain and Food Active hailed the “belt and braces” ban on junk food adverts on London Underground, rail, tram and bus services introduced by the city’s mayor, Sadiq Khan.
It outlaws advertising of most sugary drinks, hamburgers, chocolate bars and salted nuts across the entire Transport for London network.
At a workshop on Wednesday, public health policy experts from the mayor’s office will discuss the implications of the move with other local authorities, in the anticipation that other areas of the UK will follow London’s lead.
Amsterdam recently introduced a similar advertising ban following a successful drive to reduce childhood obesity. The London borough of Haringey and Edinburgh are both due to follow suit.
Ben Reynolds, the deputy chief executive of Sustain, said: “This research highlights the limited powers that local government has to restrict junk food advertising.
“Nationally the government has accepted the need to limit advertising of products high in fat, salt and/or sugar, particularly where viewed by children, and yet there are clear loopholes which need to be closed.
“The Advertising Standards Authority refuses to consider junk food adverts outside many settings used by children such as nurseries to be in breach of current rules.”
Also among the report’s nine recommendations are for the government to tighten restrictions on in-store advertising – including window displays – and the areas immediately surrounding shops. Tougher sanctions are also urged, including that the ASA must have, and use, powers to levy fines on any company that breaks advertising rules more than once in three years.
Alex Holt, the food and nutrition lead for Food Active, said: “To the uninitiated, it may appear that local authorities are sending out mixed messages by trying to tackle child obesity and yet still allowing these adverts to proliferate.
“This work has shown the difficulties that local authorities face and highlights the need for much stronger powers to both prevent and to order the immediate removal of adverts for products high in fat, salt and/or sugar, in areas with high rates of child obesity.”