TfL Steps Up to Tackle Obesity

As of 25 February, advertising food and drink that is high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS products) has been banned on the entire Transport for London (TfL) network. That includes the buses, DLR, trams, river services and underground. But what does the government hope to achieve with the ban?

HFSS advertising in the UK

The advertising world has been cracking down on how to deal with HFSS food and drink for quite a while now. The UK has some of the strictest laws surrounding the promotion of HFSS products, with the latest round of rule-tightening happening back in 2017. These rules specifically regulated how these products were marketed to children, and you might well have noticed that over the past couple of years, the number of HFSS adverts popping up in the middle of children’s programmes has dramatically reduced. The 2017 rules also targeted brands who were advertising HFSS products during programmes with a predominantly family audience, like X Factor, for example.

You can find out more about the new rules by taking a look at our most recent HFSS advertising blog.

The TfL crackdown

Considering the financial incentives surrounding HFSS advertising, TfL banning HFSS advertising is ground-breaking. TfL generates approximately £147 million per year from advertising overall, including roughly £13million from HFSS foods. TfL aren’t exactly rolling in it, so that’s A LOT of money to cut out.

The ban was proposed by current London mayor Sadiq Khan after a public consultation showed overwhelming support from the public. Currently, London has one of the highest obesity rates in Europe with 40% of 10 and 11-year-olds classed as overweight or obese. A study by Cancer Research UK shows that children who have more exposure to HFSS advertising are more likely to become overweight or obese. That statistic alone is enough to make you rethink that Big Mac.

TfL aren’t the first to enforce a complete ban on HFSS adverts. Similar bans are already in force in Amsterdam, where the measures have seen childhood obesity rates drop by 12% on average and by as much as 18% in children from deprived areas. So there is significant evidence that measures like these can help with a worldwide problem.

The start of something big. Find out more about our brand development services.

The debate begins

As always, not everyone agrees with the drastic measures. We’ve mentioned the huge revenue that TfL brings in from HFSS advertising which they’re obviously not going to have any more. Several Conservative critics have said the loss in revenue will delay much needed infrastructure upgrades. Obviously, some of the big brands advertising HFSS products aren’t exactly happy about their ads being banned. This is usually the time when they wax lyrical about how advertising doesn’t have that much of an effect on our behaviour, which we know isn’t true.

Critics have also pointed out that under-16s make up less than 3% of the total number of passengers on the network. This points to a misunderstanding when it comes to targeting minors with advertising, though: brands who do this aren’t really advertising directly to the children. They’re advertising to the parents (who hold the purse strings) through the children. Because at the end of the day, the parents are far more likely to respond to their own child repeatedly asking for a bar of chocolate than they are to an advert telling them to buy their child a bar of chocolate. It’s a tried-and-true marketing strategy that big brands have been using for decades.

When it comes to a problem like obesity, anything that could help solve it can only be a positive thing. The advertising space that opens up from the ban leaves plenty of room for the same brands to advertise healthier products and new brands to enter the scene. Not only would that go a long way to encourage healthier eating patterns, but it would also boost revenue for TfL. Food marketing isn’t the only arena where advertising restrictions are tightening and that can be complicated to navigate without expert advice.

If you would like to find out more about running fully-integrated marketing campaigns that comply with the latest regulations, get in touch today.


Get in touch today