Expert views on high fat, salt and sugar food marketing policies to tackle obesity and improve dietary behaviours in the UK: a qualitative study

Hilton, S. , Vaczy, C., Buckton, C. , Patterson, C. and Smith, M. J. (2023) Expert views on high fat, salt and sugar food marketing policies to tackle obesity and improve dietary behaviours in the UK: a qualitative study. BMC Public Health, 23, 1951. (doi: 10.1186/s12889-023-16821-2) (PMID:37814236) (PMCID:PMC10561510)

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Background: There has been a lack of progress in reducing obesity in the United Kingdom (UK) despite Government strategies released over the last 30 years. These strategies, including the most recent publication from July 2020, have focused on childhood obesity and high fat, sugar and/or salt (HFSS) marketing restrictions, particularly broadcast advertising. In this study, we aimed to examine a range of expert views on the potential impact and the relative importance of such policies. Methods: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 42 experts in policy (n = 19), industry (n = 10), and advocacy (n = 13) with an interest in obesity. The UK Government’s 2020 obesity strategy was used as a prompt to guide discussion on policy options. Qualitative thematic analysis was employed to answer the three research questions and themes were inductively coded within each research question. Data were also cross compared using matrix coding and a form of framework analysis to examine the views expressed by the different types of stakeholders. Results: Reactions to the July 2020 proposal were mixed among policy and advocacy stakeholders, while commercial stakeholders expressed disappointment. A main theme emerging in all groups was frustration with the policy process and wishing to see more clarity regarding restrictions and their implementation. There was an overall lack of trust that the government would carry out their proposed plan and agreement that a more comprehensive, multi-sector approach aimed at the underlying drivers of obesity would be most effective, with some stakeholders indicating that some of the proposed policies could make a difference if implemented robustly. On the theme of promoting healthier options, some stakeholders suggested lowering the prices of ‘healthy’ products and making them more accessible to combat regressivity. There was a potentially surprising level of agreement between policy/advocacy stakeholders and commercial stakeholders, although commercial stakeholders were more likely to advocate for collaboration between government and industry as well as voluntary industry measures. Conclusion: While HFSS marketing restrictions have a role to play and send a strong signal – provided they are implemented comprehensively – investment in these policies needs to be part of wider efforts to tackle the underlying drivers of obesity.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Buckton, Christina and Patterson, Dr Chris and Hilton, Professor Shona and Vaczy, Ms Caroline and Smith, Dr Marissa
Authors: Hilton, S., Vaczy, C., Buckton, C., Patterson, C., and Smith, M. J.
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > School of Health & Wellbeing > MRC/CSO SPHSU
Journal Name:BMC Public Health
Publisher:BioMed Central
ISSN (Online):1471-2458
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2023 The Authors
First Published:First published in BMC Public Health 23: 1951
Publisher Policy:Reproduced under a Creative Commons License

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Project CodeAward NoProject NamePrincipal InvestigatorFunder's NameFunder RefLead Dept
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3048230021Inequalities in healthAlastair LeylandMedical Research Council (MRC)MC_UU_00022/2HW - MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit
3048230071Inequalities in healthAlastair LeylandOffice of the Chief Scientific Adviser (CSO)SPHSU17HW - MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit
3048230011Complexity in healthSharon SimpsonMedical Research Council (MRC)MC_UU_00022/1HW - MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit