Mel Wakeman, senior lecturer in nutrition and applied physiology at Birmingham City University, said she had written to a range of retailers urging them to remove sweets, chocolate and crisps from till points.
“Marks & Spencer’s response was very disappointing, as was WHSmith’s,” said Wakeman. “Both stores seem very keen to pass the buck and make huge assumptions about their customers’ requirements and habits.
“WHSmith said that they train their staff to never offer promotions repeatedly to regular customers or to anyone who has made it known they do not wish to be advised about such promotions. Can someone tell me how a WHSmith cashier would keep track of if a customer is regular and if they have previously requested to not be told about unhealthy till point promotions?”
A spokewoman for M&S said: “In 2012 we removed confectionery from all belted till points with child appeal, e.g. Percy Pig, Colin the Caterpillar.
“At larger stores and smaller convenience stores without belted till points we commonly stock magazines and newspapers, dried fruit and nuts, savoury snack items and our ‘bags for life’. We are also introducing selected fresh fruit into our checkout.
“We are always looking for ways to help our customers make healthy choices and we will continue to work closely with the government and industry bodies on this.”
M&S and WHSmith were working on responses to Wakeman’s claims at the time of publishing this article.
She also wrote to Asda, which she believed had responded more positively, although she provided no further details, and Sainsbury, which had not yet responded when this article was written.
Wakeman also called on the government to make the deliberate placing of sweets, chocolate and crisps at till points illegal. “If the government has banned cigarettes from being on display, it’s about time the same principle was applied to unhealthy snacks which we can see are having a direct impact on our NHS services,” she said.
“We need the government to better protect the future of the British public and for the facts about obesity to be realised. Children and teenagers are now consuming around 40% more added sugar than the daily recommended allowance and we’re now seeing diabetes, high blood pressure and signs of heart disease in young children.
“As a nation we should be reducing much of the added sugar in our diet but we need help to do this. Being constantly tempted to pick up junk food at the checkout is undermining our efforts to be healthier. The UK is in a captive junk food market and stores need to have more socially responsible marketing policies that don’t encourage unhealthy impulse buys.”
Tesco and discount supermarket Aldi removed all confectionery from their checkouts in January 2015. Lidl did the same a year earlier. Retailers such as Sainsbury, Morrisons, Asda and the Cooperative Group have all clamped down on displaying confectionery at till points. Pressure has been mounting on other store chains to follow suit.