London bans junk food ads on public transport to fight child obesity

LONDON (Reuters) - London plans to ban junk food advertising on its entire public transport network to tackle child obesity, which is among the highest in Europe, Mayor Sadiq Kahn said on Friday.

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Almost 40 percent of children aged 10 and 11 in London are overweight or obese, according to research compiled for Britain’s parliament.

“Child obesity in London is a ticking timebomb and I am determined to act. If we don’t take bold steps against it we are not doing right by our young people as well as placing a huge strain on our already pressurized health service,” Kahn said in a statement.

The ban will target food retailers with products deemed high in fat, salt or sugar such as McDonald’s.

McDonald's here has long been fighting perceptions that it encourages children to eat unhealthily. In 2011, it won a U.S. lawsuit allowing it to continue including toys in Happy Meals.

Coca Cola and Pepsi here - as part of the American Beverage Association - faced scrutiny during the same year following a U.S. campaign to bring awareness to the potential health concerns associated with sugar sweetened drinks.

Food and drink advertising contributed around 20 million pounds ($27 million) to Transport for London’s revenue during the 2016-17 financial year.

A spokesperson from the mayor’s office said :”About two thirds of this comes from high fat, salt and sugar, food and drink.”

The National Centre for Social Research and Cancer Research UK found advertising of unhealthy foods – particularly when aimed at children – creates extra pressure on children and families when it comes to choosing what to eat and drink.

“I want to reduce the influence and pressure that can be put on children and families to make unhealthy choices,” Kahn said. “I’m determined to do all I can to tackle this issue with the powers I have and help Londoners make healthy food choices for themselves and their children.”

The plans are a key part of the mayor’s draft London Food Strategy and echo initiatives that have been introduced in Amsterdam this year.

Khan said: “The government needs to step up and join this fight against child obesity.”

Reporting by Coran Elliott; Editing by Georgina Prodhan and Elaine Hardcastle