Rosie Boycott, journalist and chair of the London Food Board, is heading the campaign

Supermarkets in London have agreed to take part in a major clampdown on obesity, which could potentially include store layouts being changed to encourage healthier shopping habits.

The five-year strategy, launched by Mayor Boris Johnson as a trial in Lambeth and Croydon last week, is being backed by Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons, which have all agreed to explore anti-obesity initiatives in the capital.

Journalist Rosie Boycott, chair of the London Food Board, is heading the campaign. She previously accused the government of failing to tackle obesity caused by excessive intake of sugar and processed food, contrasting the £1bn a year the industry spends on marketing to the “paltry” £14m spent on the Change4Life anti-obesity campaign.

She said the project planned to changed “how and what” supermarkets and food manufacturers sell.

The trial will include financial incentives to encourage small food businesses to sell healthier food, families being given vouchers for fruit & veg and changes to store layouts “to make buying healthier food cheaper and easier.”

One source involved in the scheme admitted the plans for store layouts posed potentially significant national policy issues for supermarket chains to address, but insisted retailers had gone into the trials “with our eyes open.”

Andrew Yaxley, Tesco MD for London and a London Food Board member, said the Mayor’s office was right to tackle obesity head-on. “From removing sweets at checkouts to educating hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren on food through our Farm to Fork programme, we want to play our part.” Tesco’s flagship new store in Streatham is one of those in the trial.

Sainsbury’s marketing director Sarah Warby added: “Anything that helps children establish healthy eating habits has to be good.”

While London pushes ahead with its anti-obesity plans, the Department of Health appears to have given up on plans for similar industry-wide commitments. The Grocer has previously reported how a series of proposals, including universal scrapping of ‘guilt lanes’ and promotions being skewed towards heathier food, have twice been discussed by ministers, only to be dismissed as unworkable.

Minutes of the Responsibility Deal high-level steering group meeting earlier this month revealed its chair, Dr Susan Jebb, said industry had failed to tackle “the final piece in the jigsaw” of the Deal, following its previous action to tackle fat, salt and calories.