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How we’re urged to eat unhealthy food

The food industry spends a lot of money on advertising unhealthy food. Most of their marketing budget is spent on promoting cheap-to-produce, unhealthy products. 

Children around the world see over 15 billion ads for unhealthy food  a year. Pre-school children know the names of many unhealthy food brands before they know their ABCs.  Teenagers say they eat junk food because it’s convenient, easy to get and is ‘everywhere’.

Tactics to make us eat more 

Most of us are aware that unhealthy food is heavily advertised on TV, outdoor posters and displays, social media and digital platforms. 

But there many more ways the food industry uses marketing to get us to buy more unhealthy food
There’s the “health halo”. This is where one aspect of a food is promoted as healthy to encourage us to think the entire product is healthy. For example, wanting us to think sugary cereals  are healthy because they’re fortified with vitamins and iron.  

Food companies are very good at tapping into our culture and emotions to sell more products. For example, using the nostalgia of growing up in the 1980s or the pride we feel in our local women’s football team to sell chocolate. Or linking fast food with helping sick children. The food industry is also great at creating times and occasions to eat their products. Such linking break-time with a snack bar. 

What can we do? 

We know that children are increasingly at risk of food-related ill-health. To stop this, we need to build a healthier food environment so that healthy eating is possible for every child, in every community. 

The first step is being aware of the food that surrounds us and how we are encouraged to buy unhealthy food at every turn. Talk to friends and family about what a healthy food environment would look like. And follow the #TalkAboutFood conversation on the Safefood social channels.

“Buy one get one free” offers also encourage us to buy more unhealthy food. Over one third of products on special offer in supermarkets are unhealthy food, and over half of special offers in local shops are unhealthy. 

Packaging is another way the food industry has made eating bigger portions normal, such as family pack, share bags and family size. Even the word “treat” is now associated with food high in salt, sugar and fat!


We all recognise a supermarket layout with end-of-aisle displays, special offers and deals. All supermarkets are the same – you find fruit and vegetables as you walk in, and milk and dairy somewhere at the back, with eggs regularly changing locations. 

None  of this is by accident. Retailers do a lot of research to analyse shoppers’ behaviour to get us to buy more and to move us away from our shopping list. For example, placing the same item in different areas around the shop increases the chance we’ll buy it. Having to walk around the shop to find food also can make us  more likely to buy unplanned items. Putting fruit and vegetables in our shopping trolleys at the beginning of our shop makes us feel “healthy”, meaning we’re more likely to buy unhealthy food as we go round the shop. 

We may think supermarkets make most of their money selling us products. But they make most of their money from selling shelf -space and floor-space to brands. End-of-aisle displays are very valuable spaces as they interrupt our shopping journey, so we’re more likely to buy products  placed there. The same is true for pallet displays or walls of a promoted brand, which force us to walk around stacks of Easter eggs, cola or chocolate tins. 

Brands pay more to have their products at “touch level” where they’re easier to see. Unhealthy food is 16 times more likely to be placed here. And  brands aimed at children pay more for “stoop level” – so their products are in the eye-line of their target market. 

The name of the aisle where food is placed influence how we think about food products. For example, “Breakfast  Cereals” seems  healthy even though the amount of sugar in many cereals  would put them in the dessert aisle! 

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