Changes in household food and drink purchases following restrictions on the advertisement of high fat, salt and sugar products across the Transport for London network: A controlled interrupted time series analysis

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Yau, A 
Berger, N 
Law, C 
Cornelsen, L 
Greener, R 

BACKGROUND Restricting the advertisement of products with high fat, salt, and sugar (HFSS) content has been recommended as a policy tool to improve diet and tackle obesity, but the impact on HFSS purchasing is unknown. This study aimed to evaluate the impact of HFSS advertising restrictions, implemented across the London (UK) transport network in February 2019, on HFSS purchases.

METHODS AND FINDINGS Over 5 million take-home food and drink purchases were recorded by 1,970 households (London [intervention], n = 977; North of England [control], n = 993) randomly selected from the Kantar Fast Moving Consumer Goods panel. The intervention and control samples were similar in household characteristics but had small differences in main food shopper sex, socioeconomic position, and body mass index. Using a controlled interrupted time series design, we estimated average weekly household purchases of energy and nutrients from HFSS products in the post-intervention period (44 weeks) compared to a counterfactual constructed from the control and pre-intervention (36 weeks) series. Energy purchased from HFSS products was 6.7% (1,001.0 kcal, 95% CI 456.0 to 1,546.0) lower among intervention households compared to the counterfactual. Relative reductions in purchases of fat (57.9 g, 95% CI 22.1 to 93.7), saturated fat (26.4 g, 95% CI 12.4 to 40.4), and sugar (80.7 g, 95% CI 41.4 to 120.1) from HFSS products were also observed. Energy from chocolate and confectionery purchases was 19.4% (317.9 kcal, 95% CI 200.0 to 435.8) lower among intervention households than for the counterfactual, with corresponding relative reductions in fat (13.1 g, 95% CI 7.5 to 18.8), saturated fat (8.7 g, 95% CI 5.7 to 11.7), sugar (41.4 g, 95% CI 27.4 to 55.4), and salt (0.2 g, 95% CI 0.1 to 0.2) purchased from chocolate and confectionery. Relative reductions are in the context of secular increases in HFSS purchases in both the intervention and control areas, so the policy was associated with attenuated growth of HFSS purchases rather than absolute reduction in HFSS purchases. Study limitations include the lack of out-of-home purchases in our analyses and not being able to assess the sustainability of observed changes beyond 44 weeks.

CONCLUSIONS This study finds an association between the implementation of restrictions on outdoor HFSS advertising and relative reductions in energy, sugar, and fat purchased from HFSS products. These findings provide support for policies that restrict HFSS advertising as a tool to reduce purchases of HFSS products.

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PLoS Medicine
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Public Library of Science (PLoS)
MRC (MC_UU_00006/7)