Media representations of opposition to the 'junk food advertising ban' on the Transport for London (TfL) network: A thematic content analysis of UK news and trade press

Claire Thompson, Christelle Clary, Vanessa Er, Jean Adams, Emma Boyland, Thomas Burgoine, Laura Cornelsen, Frank de Vocht, Matt Egan, Amelia A Lake, Karen Lock, Oliver Mytton, Mark Petticrew, Martin White, Amy Yau, Steven Cummins

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Abstract

Background: Advertising of less healthy foods and drinks is hypothesised to be associated with obesity in adults and children. In February 2019, Transport for London implemented restrictions on advertisements for foods and beverages high in fat, salt or sugar across its network as part of a city-wide strategy to tackle childhood obesity. The policy was extensively debated in the press. This paper identifies arguments for and against the restrictions. Focusing on arguments against the restrictions, it then goes on to deconstruct the discursive strategies underpinning them.

Methods: A qualitative thematic content analysis of media coverage of the restrictions (the 'ban') in UK newspapers and trade press was followed by a document analysis of arguments against the ban. A search period of March 1, 2018 to May 31, 2019 covered: (i) the launch of the public consultation on the ban in May 2018; (ii) the announcement of the ban in November 2018; and (iii) its implementation in February 2019. A systematic search of printed and online publications in English distributed in the UK or published on UK-specific websites identified 152 articles.

Results: Arguments in favour of the ban focused on inequalities and childhood obesity. Arguments against the ban centred on two claims: that childhood obesity was not the 'right' priority; and that an advertising ban was not an effective way to address childhood obesity. These claims were justified via three discursive approaches: (i) claiming more 'important' priorities for action; (ii) disputing the science behind the ban; (iii) emphasising potential financial costs of the ban.

Conclusion: The discursive tactics used in media sources to argue against the ban draw on frames widely used by unhealthy commodities industries in response to structural public health interventions. Our analyses highlight the need for interventions to be framed in ways that can pre-emptively counter common criticisms.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100828
Pages (from-to)100828
JournalSSM - Population Health
Volume15
Early online date27 May 2021
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
AAL is a member of Fuse, the Centre for Translational Research in Public Health ( www.fuse.ac.uk ). Fuse is a Public Health Research Centre of Excellence funded by the five North East Universities of Durham, Newcastle, Northumbria, Sunderland and Teesside.

Funding Information:
JA, MW and TB are supported by the MRC Epidemiology Unit, University of Cambridge [grant number MC/UU/12015/6 ] and Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR) , a UK Clinical Research Collaboration (UKCRC) Public Health Research Centre of Excellence . Funding for CEDAR from the British Heart Foundation , Cancer Research UK , Economic and Social Research Council , Medical Research Council , the National Institute for Health Research [grant numbers ES/G007462/1 and MR/K023187/1 ], and the Wellcome Trust [grant number 087636/Z/08/Z ], under the auspices of the UK Clinical Research Collaboration , is gratefully acknowledged.

Funding Information:
Ethical approval for this study was granted by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine Research Ethics Committee (Application No. 16297/RR/11721). Written informed consent was obtained from all participants.This study is funded by the NIHR School for Public Health Research (SPHR) (Grant Reference Number PD-SPH-2015). The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) School for Public Health Research is a partnership between the Universities of Sheffield; Bristol; Cambridge; Imperial; and University College London; The London School for Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM); LiLaC ? a collaboration between the Universities of Liverpool and Lancaster; and Fuse - The Centre for Translational Research in Public Health, a collaboration between Newcastle, Durham, Northumbria, Sunderland and Teesside Universities. CT is funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Applied Research Collaboration East of England. The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care. JA, MW and TB are supported by the MRC Epidemiology Unit, University of Cambridge [grant number MC/UU/12015/6] and Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR), a UK Clinical Research Collaboration (UKCRC) Public Health Research Centre of Excellence. Funding for CEDAR from the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK, Economic and Social Research Council, Medical Research Council, the National Institute for Health Research [grant numbers ES/G007462/1 and MR/K023187/1], and the Wellcome Trust [grant number 087636/Z/08/Z], under the auspices of the UK Clinical Research Collaboration, is gratefully acknowledged. FdV is partly funded by National Institute for Health Research Applied Research Collaboration West (NIHR ARC West) at University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust. AAL is a member of Fuse, the Centre for Translational Research in Public Health (www.fuse.ac.uk). Fuse is a Public Health Research Centre of Excellence funded by the five North East Universities of Durham, Newcastle, Northumbria, Sunderland and Teesside. SC is funded by Health Data Research UK (HDR-UK). HDR-UK is an initiative funded by the UK Research and Innovation, Department of Health and Social Care (England) and the devolved administrations, and leading medical research charities. The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of any of the above named funders. The funders had no role in the design of the study, or collection, analysis and interpretation of the data, or in the decision to publish, or in writing the manuscript.

Funding Information:
FdV is partly funded by National Institute for Health Research Applied Research Collaboration West (NIHR ARC West) at University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust.

Funding Information:
This study is funded by the NIHR School for Public Health Research (SPHR) (Grant Reference Number PD-SPH-2015 ).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021

Structured keywords

  • NIHR SPHR
  • NIHR ARC West

Keywords

  • advertising
  • regulation
  • childhood obesity
  • media

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