The campaign, called ‘Junk Free Checkouts’, is being led by the British Dietetic Association’s (BDA’s) Dietitians in Obesity Management (DOM UK) specialist group and the Children’s Food Campaign and is also supported by the British Dental Association and the publication Slimming World.
The campaigners have called on government action to force supermarkets to stop this practice if they fail to do so voluntarily.
A recent nationwide survey* conducted by DOM UK in partnership with Slimming World and with the support of Birmingham City Council, found that nearly eight in 10 shoppers were unhappy with the sale of sugary or high calorie food and drink items at checkouts. Asda and Morrisons were named as the worst offenders.
Almost all the parents surveyed said they had been pestered by their children to buy junk food at the checkouts, and most found it difficult to say no. Two-thirds said they felt strongly enough to complain to the store, but only a few had done so, so customer views were going unheard.
Junk Free Checkouts
The Junk Free Checkouts campaign aims to give shoppers easy ways – both in-store and online – to highlighting what is being sold at checkouts and in queuing aisles, and pressing the case for change at the till.
The Department of Health is investigating a new voluntary code of practice on the marketing of products high in fat, sugar and salt under the Public Health Responsibility Deal (PHRD), which is currently being drawn up in consultation with the food industry. However, campaigners doubt the scope and strength of the proposed code and argue that “conflicting signals” are being given by it.
Linda Hindle, an obesity specialist with the BDA, said: “Unplanned calories from foods high in fat and sugar purchased at checkouts contribute towards poor diet and poor health, including obesity, heart disease and diabetes, which may lead to premature death.
“Eating sugary or acidic food and drink also directly contributes to tooth damage. Although dental decay is completely preventable, one third of 12 year old children have a filled or extracted tooth, a sure sign that the rot of poor diets is already setting in.”
She added: “Far too many retailers are unwilling to stop pushing unhealthy food at the checkout and queuing areas. It may be lucrative for them but, as our survey found, it is deeply unpopular with customers and nudges purchasing behaviour in the wrong direction. If retailers can’t act on their own, then we hope to see robust action from the government to tackle this problem.”
In a statement the British Retail Consortium said: “This issue is being discussed through the Responsibility Deal, and all retailers will consider the pledge once it is published before the end of the year. Many retailers have already done a substantial amount of work in this area: such as introducing healthier alternatives like nuts and dried fruit, or removing confectionery from all or many of the tills in their stores.
“At the same time, this is not the biggest issue in obesity and it’s important to focus on diet more generally. A customer is likely to have wheeled their trolley around the whole store possibly buying their groceries for the week ahead before they reach the tills, so what they do in that time is likely to have a much bigger impact on their diet than products in the queue for the check-out.”
*DOM UK survey summary
- 78% find junk food at the checkouts ‘annoying’ as it can be hard to resist.
- 83% have been pestered by children to buy junk food at the checkouts.
- 75% have given in to children and purchased something after pestering.
- Over 90% think that junk food at checkouts contributes to obesity.
- When questioned, most respondents wanted food and drink to be removed from checkouts.
- 56% would be more likely to shop at a supermarket if it banned junk food from checkouts.
- Only 4% of respondents had complained, but 63% said they would complain if they knew how to do so.