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Sweets at supermarket tills are ‘fuelling obesity crisis’

Parents vent frustration at checkout aisles full of junk food in survey to kickstart new campaign

The Government will be urged to revisit proposals to ban unhealthy food from supermarket checkouts after a survey found that more than 90 per cent of shoppers believe the practice contributes to obesity.

A campaign called Junk Free Checkouts is being launched today and aims to force supermarkets to stop selling sweets near the tills, which exploits the “pester power” of children who nag their parents to buy the snacks.

The initiative, announced by the British Dietetic Association and the Children’s Food Campaign, comes in the wake of a nationwide survey in which 78 per cent of respondents said they found junk food at checkouts “annoying”. It also found that 83 per cent have been pestered by their children to buy junk food at the checkouts and 75 per cent have given in to their children and bought something because they were pestered.

Nearly 2,000 people took part in the Chuck the Junk Survey, of which the majority were women and two-thirds had children.

Health campaigners have long called for supermarkets to stop selling unhealthy snacks near the till, a practice they say is often targeted at children with promotional deals.

Speaking on behalf of the British Dietetic Association, obesity specialist Linda Hindle said: “Retailers are unwilling to stop pushing unhealthy food at the checkout and queuing areas. It may be lucrative for them but, as our survey found, it is deeply unpopular with customers and nudges purchasing behaviour in the wrong direction.

“If retailers can’t act on their own, then we hope to see robust action from the Government to tackle this problem.”

The Government appeared to perform a U-turn on the issue in July, when Anna Soubry, the minister responsible for public health, ruled out a clampdown on so-called sweet and chocolate “guilt” lanes in shops and supermarkets, just days after vowing to abolish them.

Under its “responsibility deal” launched in 2011, the Government has received pledges from all leading supermarkets and food manufacturers to lower the fat and salt content of food products and adopt clearer labelling.

A Department of Health spokesman said other moves being considered by the Government included urging stores to spend more on marketing low-calorie products and ending the practice of herding shoppers through aisles of unhealthy snacks.

Campaigners have attacked the code of conduct for not doing enough to tackle the issue. Asda, Morrisons and Tesco were found to be the worst offenders that stocked the most junk food at tills.

Supermarkets are now being criticised for reneging on promises to change the way they sold confectionery a decade after a 2003 investigation by the independent watchdog the Food Commission.

Experts say there is a weight of scientific research to show that the practice of stocking checkout aisles with sweets is a cynical ploy by supermarkets to tempt shoppers into buying sweets and other fatty and salty foods at the end of a tiring few hours’ shopping.

Professor of marketing at EM-Lyon Business School, Agnes Nairn, told The Independent that shoppers’ buying patterns were likely to alter by the time they reached the checkout counter. “Consumers are more likely to go for something unhealthy when they are tired because they aren’t able to make the rational decision they would make otherwise,” she said.

“Although they all know that a chocolate egg is not as good for them as fruit salad, if you have to do that in a hurry, they make the wrong choice.”