Anti-obesity code to limit sale of sweets at checkouts

New rules to put limits on advertising and oblige retailers to promote a ‘healthy diet’

The anti-obesity code says in-store communications will have to actively promote the consumption of five to seven portions of fruit and vegetables a day to customers. Photograph: Eric Luke

The anti-obesity code says in-store communications will have to actively promote the consumption of five to seven portions of fruit and vegetables a day to customers. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

Retailers will have to provide checkouts free of sweets and other junk food and to offer meal deals that promote a “healthy, balanced diet” under tough new rules designed to fight rising obesity.

A ban on the advertising of foods high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) within 60m of schools, and in publications with less than 75 per cent adult readership, are proposed in a code of practice drawn up for the Department of Health.

The final draft of the code, seen by The Irish Times, envisages a ban on online marketing of unhealthy foods aimed at children aged under 15.

This will cover the use of emails, SMS messages and social media along with games and videos on branded food websites of food companies.

In recognition of the importance of product placement within shops in influencing consumer purchases, the code says in-store communications will have to actively promote the consumption of five to seven portions of fruit and vegetables a day to customers.

Shops with four or more checkout bays will have to keep at least one free of unhealthy food, while outlets with fewer than four checkouts will be encouraged to provide one free of HFSS food “where practical”.

Calorie information

Shops will also be required to provide calorie information in food service areas such as delis and hot food counters.

Marketing communications for HFSS foods must be recognisably transparent to their target audience, the code states, and paid content must be clearly indicated.

Billboards promoting unhealthy food will be banned inside 100m of school gates, or 60m for smaller displays.

Banners erected on buildings will also be prohibited if they are promoting unhealthy foods.

In print media and cinema, advertising for HFSS food shall not exceed 25 per cent of the space available.

The sponsorship of sports pages or supplements by unhealthy foods will not be allowed.

The code, drawn up in response to a call from then minister for health Leo Varadkar in 2015, was put together by figures from Government, the food industry and advertising.

While voluntary, it will be closely monitored by the department. It is due to be published next month.

HFSS foods are not defined in the code but will be determined using a technique of nutritional profiling developed in the UK.

Advertisers will have to provide a certificate showing their foods are not high in fat, sugar and salt in order to be exempt.