Fast food should be banned from buses and trains, as part of efforts to “nudge” the public out of round-the-clock snacking, obesity experts say.
The call for radical restrictions, in an attempt to reset social norms, came amid warnings that “guzzling on the go” is fuelling Britain’s weight problem.
Experts at the world’s largest obesity conference urged politicians to make sweeping changes to limit the availability of junk food on public transport.
They said buses, trains and trams should take action, in the same way that other health threats, like smoking, and alcohol, have been banned.
Professor Jason Halford, from the European Association of Obesity, urged British politicians to back a ban, saying it would help shift people away from a culture of endless snacking.
He said other cities should follow Manchester’s Metrolink tram system, which already has such restrictions. Other obesity experts said passengers would be grateful to be saved either from tempting aromas – or the “nauseating” smell of junk foods late at night.
Prof Halford, head of the Department of Psychological Sciences at the University of Liverpool, said: “We eat all the time because there are eating opportunities all the time. “When I was growing up in the 1970s food was far more restricted – the type of food was more restricted, and you had to prepare it.”
“Now, it’s ubiquitous, food is everywhere and the type of food that is most ubiquitous is unhealthy.”
Speaking at the European Congress on Obesity, he urged politicians of all parties, and city mayors to take radical action.
“The fact is its become normal to see people eating burgers on buses. I think it would be a great relief for the bus companies if that wasn’t the case, but it also sets a norm that we don’t consume all the time,” he said.
In 2008, Transport for London (TfL) banned alcohol on the tube, and in recent years, it has run poster campaigns encouraging passengers not to eat smelly food.
Experts also called on Governments and rail bosses to make changes to reduce the amount of junk food sold in stations, by setting nutritional standards to ensure healthy fare was available.
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Tam Fry, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, backed the idea.
He said: “When I was growing up my mother always taught me never to eat in public. It was the norm then. But somehow we have become used to the idea of snacking all the time, guzzling on the go, so that our buses and trains are reeking of burgers and the thought of going more than a few hours between meals is long forgotten.”
Dr Tim Lobstein, policy director for the World Obesity Federation, said: “There is something about the smell of a pasty on a train at night that is really nauseating.
He urged rail chiefs to take action to limit the amount of junk food available – and to encourage people away from eating in public.
“I would like to see Network Rail and Transport for London setting conditions for offering healthier foods setting standards,” he said.
“I think a ban is probably a step too far – I would like to see signs saying ‘please refrain’ from eating smelly foods, I think that is useful. I think it’s a way to nudge rather than nanny.”
A spokesman for TfL said it would not enforce a ban on junk food. But he said: “We do encourage them to think of their fellow passengers when using the transport network.”