RSPH and Slimming World call for supermarkets to do more to tackle obesity

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A new report, Health on the Shelf published today (26 July 2019) by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) and Slimming World, exposes the marketing tactics used to drive sales of unhealthy products and reveals that supermarket layout, pricing strategies and shopping environment is fuelling the obesity epidemic. The report is published in advance of the Government’s expected response to the consultation on layout and price promotions.

The report also reveals that over one third (36%) of shoppers reported that they impulse purchase unhealthy products because they are on special offer, and one in five say supermarkets cause them to go off track when attempting to lose weight.

An audit of small, ‘local’ style supermarkets found that many unhealthy products such as confectionary and crisps are located in multiple prominent areas around the store, including at the end of aisles and around the checkout. RSPH and Slimming World are now calling for government and industry to do more to support supermarkets in encouraging healthier choices to consumers.

Health on the Shelf recommends:

·         To adopt a set of key principles to apply to all major supermarket retailers, to include:

–          Greater allocation of shelf space to healthier products, based on the Government’s Eatwell Guide;

–          The introduction of a healthy rewards scheme;

–          Provision of recipe cards and cooking demonstrations on how to use ingredients to create healthy meals.

·         Business rate reductions for supermarkets and retailers who take health seriously by adopting key principles.

·         Explore introducing a healthy rating scheme, similar to the FSA’s Food Hygiene Rating Scheme ‘scores on the doors’, based on the proportion of healthy and unhealthy products stocked. 

To bring this to life, RSPH and Slimming World have opened the UK’s first ever supermarket designed by public health experts to nudge consumers to make healthier choices. Nudge at The People’s Supermarket, located in Central London, is open to the public, and highlights how supermarkets can be health promoting environments.

The re-imagined supermarket features:

·         Nudge points to encourage customers to re-consider their purchases, for example by swapping to a low-fat version;

·         Layout and shelf allocation based on what constitutes a balanced diet according to the Eatwell guide;

·         Knowledgeable and friendly staff with basic nutritional training;

·         Free samples of cheap and nutritious food and live cookery demonstrations made at the onsite kitchen, with accompanying recipe cards.

Shirley Cramer CBE, chief executive of RSPH, said: “The environment in which we live is a major contributor towards obesity, and supermarkets have both the power and influence as well as a responsibility in tackling their contribution to this “obesogenic” environment. There has been some progress by supermarkets in areas such as removing junk from check outs, but our research shows that shoppers and industry experts feel there is much more supermarkets can and should do to promote healthier choices – reducing the shelf allocation for unhealthy products, providing clearer labelling and signage and even changing the shopper experience. We wanted to practically show what this new approach could look like, by unveiling the UK’s first supermarket designed by public health experts.

Alongside Slimming World, we are calling on the government to commit to legislation to support supermarkets in promoting healthier choices through legislation. If we change the environment we can encourage healthier choices for all.” 

Carolyn Pallister, public health manager and dietician, at Slimming World, comments: “Being overweight not only impacts on people’s physical health, it can also impact on overall mental and emotional wellbeing and happiness; anything that helps those of us who struggle with our weight to make healthier choices is a good thing.

“Our member survey showed that with support and guidance to make better food choices, people feel empowered to adapt their shopping routines to ensure they are eating an overall healthy, balanced diet to support weight loss. At Slimming World, we believe that as well as being healthy and balanced, people should have the flexibility to enjoy a variety of food and drink choices – we equip our members to intuitively make healthier choices so that they lose weight, and maintain it.

“Supermarkets will argue that they are giving their customers the choice; and we haven’t removed those choices at Nudge, all we’ve done is made it easier for customers to choose healthier alternatives and put less emphasis on promotions of foods likely to cause weight gain. If supermarkets empowered their consumers to make these changes themselves though through creating an environment which promoted a healthier diet, they could become part of the solution in helping tackle the obesity epidemic.”