Morrisons aisle shopper squash fruit juice

One third (36%) of respondents to a survey by the bodies said they were likely to impulse buy unhealthy products on special offer

Supermarkets have been warned they must do more to help tackle the UK’s obesity crisis.

A new report by the Royal Society for Public Health and Slimming World found supermarket layout, pricing strategy and shopping environment were helping fuel the obesity epidemic.

One third (36%) of respondents to a survey by the bodies said they were likely to impulse buy unhealthy products on special offer, and one in five said supermarkets caused them to go “off track” when attempting to lose weight.

Latest NHS figures suggest 64% of adults in England were classified as “overweight or obese” in 2017/18. Obesity in children is of particular concern, with 20.1% of year six and 9.5% of reception-aged children considered “obese”.

The ‘Health on the Shelf’ report proposed a set of key principles all supermarkets should follow, regardless of size or location. These include greater allocation of shelf space to healthier products, the introduction of a healthy rewards scheme, and recipe cards and cooking demonstrations that show how to make healthy meals.

The document insisted government and industry should do more to support supermarkets in encouraging healthier choices, including lowering business rates for retailers that adopt the principles, and introducing a rating system based on the proportion of healthy and unhealthy products stocked.

RSPH chief executive Shirley Cramer insisted supermarkets had “both the power and influence as well as a responsibility in tackling their contribution to this obesogenic environment”.

She acknowledged there had been “some progress” by supermarkets in areas such as removing junk food from checkouts. However, there was “much more” they should do to promote healthier choices, she said. Examples included cutting the shelf allocation for unhealthy products, providing clearer labelling and signage, and even changing the shopper experience.

To coincide with the report launch, RSPH and Slimming World have opened the UK’s “first ever” supermarket designed by public health experts to nudge consumers to make healthier choices.

The idea behind ‘Nudge’ at The People’s Supermarket, in central London, is to show how supermarkets can “make it easier” for customers to choose healthier alternatives and put less emphasis on promotions of foods likely to cause weight gain.