Transport for London bans HFSS advertising

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As of February 25th, Transport for London has revised its guidelines and effectively banned any adverts that promote foods or non-alcoholic drinks that are high in fat, salt and sugar according to the Nutrient Profiling Model managed by Public Health England.

The ban, ordered by London Mayor Sadiq Khan, follows the standards that were imposed by the Committee of Advertising Practice back in July 2017 across advertising to children as a measure to prevent childhood obesity. So, what do advertisers need to know?

In a nutshell:

  1. All adverts featuring food or non-alcoholic drinks in their creative copy must not feature any HFSS products. This includes ‘incidentally’ featured foods – so an ad for a dating site cannot show a couple eating hamburgers.
  2. Food or non-alcoholic drink brands, restaurants, supermarkets or ordering services must always feature a healthy option as the basis of their creative copy in adverts.

What is HFSS?

HFSS products are food and soft drink products that are high in fat, salt or sugar as identified using the Department of Health nutrient profiling model which compares food nutrient contents. Points are allocated based on 100g of food or drink, no matter what the size is of the serving. Points are awarded for A nutrients (the bad ones – energy, saturated fat, sugar, sodium) and for C nutrients (the good ones – fruit, veg, fibre and protein). The score for the C nutrients is subtracted from the A nutrients to give a final nutrient profile score. Foods scoring 4 or more points, and drinks scoring over 1 are classified as ‘less healthy’ and generally include sugary drinks, fast food, sweets, chocolate and crisps. The model applies to all food and drink equally – there are no exemptions.

Where does the TFL ban exist?

The ban affects all advertising across the whole of TFL which includes buses, underground tubes and over ground trains, the Docklands light railway, taxis, bus-stops, stations and even some roadside sites such as roundabouts.

Why the ban?

According to The Mayor the number of overweight or obese 11 and 12 year olds in London is already at 40%, amongst the highest rate in Europe, and the cost of obesity in England to the NHS is £6.1billion a year. To tackle this problem Sadiq Khan has drafted a range of policies, known as the London Food Strategy, which includes banning HFSS advertising across TFL. Studies have shown that a similar initiative in Amsterdam resulted in childhood obesity falling by 12%.

The Cost

The Mayor has admitted that whilst TFL’s revenue from advertising less healthy foods and drink is around £13 million a year, he did not expect there to be a significant impact from the ban. He proposed that brands associated with less-healthy foods would instead advertise their healthier products such as unsalted nuts or sugar-free drinks. It is also worth noting that companies cannot simply promote their generic brand without HFSS products to avoid the ban.


There is the opportunity for food and drink brands to request consideration for advertising particular products if they can demonstrate that those products do not contribute to HFSS diets in children. TFL will look at exemptions on a case by case basis.

Advertisers can talk to TFL and pre-submit adverts to its media partners Exterion Media and JC Decaux to check compliance. Alternatively, PromoVeritas have been providing promotional and marketing compliance expertise since 2002 and can be a first port of call for advice. Ensuring your brand follows these rules is essential to avoid an ASA Ruling or creating stricter changes to UK legislation being passed. To speak to an expert contact us here.

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