A victory for pester power?

By on 01/11/2013 in Blog

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Birmingham Public Health's Consultant Dietician and Senior Manager for Healthy Eating and Activity, Linda Hindle, reflects on an apparent breakthrough in the Junk-free Checkouts campaign.

Linda Hindle

Linda Hindle

Sometimes you’ve got to fight fire with fire.

I was reminded of that saying this week as a public health campaign to combat pester power at supermarket checkouts secured a partial victory thanks to… you guessed it, pester power.

Just weeks after I helped launch the Junk-free Checkouts campaign, new public health minister Jane Ellison has acknowledged that high calorie snacks and drinks at checkouts increase impulse purchases, thereby contributing to obesity.

In a written response to a parliamentary question, she said: “Parents have indicated that positioning of sweets at checkouts can increase pestering to purchase by their children.

“There is evidence that the majority of food promoted at checkouts and in queuing areas is less healthy than elsewhere and that foods sold at impulse purchase points such as checkouts experience uplifts in sales.

“We have identified food promotion as an area for action under the Responsibility Deal and will be discussing with the food industry actions it might take to reduce exposure to marketing and promotion of less healthy foods.”

This is great news and in stark contrast to previous public health minister Anna Soubry, who had ruled out taking action against retailers who promoted junk food in so-called 'guilt lanes'.

Jane Ellison has recognised what parents have been saying for years and hopefully retailers will respond and start to clean up their act.

So why does this matter?

Well it matters because the public tell us it matters. A survey this summer found that 7 in 10 Birmingham shoppers were unhappy with the sale of sugary or high calorie food and drink items at checkouts.

The survey, conducted in partnership with the British Dietetic Association and Slimming World, found:

  • 70 per cent of people find having junk food at the checkouts 'annoying'. The main reason given for this is that junk food can be hard to resist at the checkout.
  • 57 per cent of people feel junk at the checkout affects their eating habits
  • 75 per cent of people have been pestered by their children to buy junk food at the checkouts and 60 per cent of people have given into their children and purchased something due to being pestered.
  • 46 per cent of people would be more likely to shop at a supermarket if they banned junk food from their check outs

Now this is not an all out attack on supermarkets. I recognise that they must make a profit but that should not be to the detriment of our children's health. The positioning of junk food at checkouts is a cynical ploy to catch shoppers when they are often tired, hungry and stressed.

So I welcome Jane Ellison comments this week and hope she can help us in the ongoing fight to remove junk food from supermarket checkouts.

Now I'm not for one minute suggesting that removing junk food from supermarket checkouts will suddenly eradicate this country’s obesity problem. But it could play a part in a much broader approach to the problem that, let’s face it’ is a national crisis.

We all have a part to play and I'm delighted Jane Ellison recognises the importance of removing junk food from supermarket checkouts.

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