Smoking ban: Boris Johnson says he wants children to be healthy, but his record on pollution and junk food suggests otherwise

Despite his promises, the Mayor isn't doing enough to keep young people safe from unhealthy eating and noxious gases

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Lord Darzi’s proposal for a complete smoking ban in London’s open spaces and parks certainly grabbed the headlines (and got Boris Johnson going), but when it comes to improving the health of Londoners, and the city's children, it misses the point completely.

Two of the biggest public health problems in London are air pollution and obesity, but neither of these attracts the same kind of radical thinking and urgent calls for action from the Mayor.

I would have no objection to "no smoking" signs being put up in children’s play areas, but children’s health is equally likely to suffer from the diesel fuelled pollution on the main roads as they travel to and from the park. Every year, 4,200 Londoners die prematurely as a result of air pollution. Reducing it is one of the Mayor’s key responsibilities, but something he has completely failed to achieve.

Johnson has already said that his "perfect" legacy would be "a leaner, fitter London" and that he wants "us to work swiftly towards the elimination of childhood obesity". So why has he adopted McDonald's and Coca-cola as sponsors of Mayoral campaigns? It's so disappointing that in the midst of a child obesity crisis, Lord Darzi didn't propose any of the radical changes needed to tackle it. For instance the medical profession’s urgent call for a ban on advertising foods high in saturated fat, sugar and salt before 9pm.

Maybe it’s because he thinks that “we should be working with industry to promote healthier lifestyles, healthier eating” - a flawed and big business orientated view that is broadly shared by Boris Johnson and many in Government.

His comment came at a public meeting this summer after I asked Lord Darzi as the Chair of the London Health Commission whether the public sector should rule out cross-promotion and partnership with food and drink companies linked to childhood obesity. It really beggars belief; in the Mayor's "Capital Clean Up" programmes, schools and youth groups are given cash to clean up community spaces - and then obliged to acknowledge the sponsor in any arising publicity. "Successful applicants may be asked to volunteer to take part in Capital Clean-up publicity events," reads the official guidance notes booklet for the scheme. Then, "[they]must be willing to acknowledge the Mayor of London and McDonalds in any publicity regarding their Capital Clean-up activities."


As it stands, children are not only being targeted by the companies responsible for so much obesity in the UK, but they're then being asked to persuade others to buy into their destructive brand. Since the summer the Mayor has gone further by allowing Coca-Cola Great Britain to sponsor his FreeSport programme to get kids active and for some of Transport for London bus stops to be converted into tweet activated Walker’s crisp vending machines.

The problem with all of this is that children do not know the difference between normal communication and sophisticated marketing tactics that associate fun, sport, health, and happiness with their junk food and drink products. This continued failure to protect children from this type of marketing not only represents extremely poor judgement, but a dereliction of public health responsibilities.