Reducing population exposure to unhealthy commodity advertising: evaluation of the Bristol Advertising and Sponsorship Policy.



National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Public Health Research (PHR) Programme Ref. NIHR152114.


What is the problem?

Research has shown that the more people see advertisements for unhealthy products, the more they consume them. This is especially the case for children and young people. Outdoor public spaces such as bus stops and billboards are important locations for advertisements because many people see them. People on lower incomes are exposed to more unhealthy adverts in their neighbourhoods. There is evidence that removing these advertisements can have positive impacts on public health.

In 2019, Transport for London (TfL) banned the advertisement of high fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) foods and drinks which resulted in households buying fewer calories. Bristol City Council became the first city outside of London to introduce a similar policy in 2022. Bristol’s policy also bans advertisement for alcohol, gambling and payday loans on council owned advertisement spaces. Before this new policy was introduced, we surveyed residents in Bristol and South Gloucestershire (to compare both areas) to find out what advertisements they noticed and whether they used any of the products advertised. We also conducted interviews with people involved in developing the policy.

What is the aim of the research?

Aims and objectives: We want to find out:

1) Whether the new policy has reduced the number of unhealthy product advertisements and led to a reduction in use of these products.

2) The likely long-term impact on people’s health and healthcare costs.

3) What residents think about the policy.

4) How policymakers and other key stakeholders experienced the policy.

How will this be achieved?

The Bristol advertisement policy evaluation will be a natural experiment utilising a controlled before-and-after design. Now that the policy has been changed, we will survey the residents in Bristol and South Gloucestershire again. We will analyse differences in exposure to advertisements and use of products before and after the introduction of the policy.

We use information from a commercial company to look at changes in the foods and drinks that people in Bristol as well as Gloucestershire, Cardiff and Sheffield make. We will look for any changes in purchasing because of the policy and compare the results in Bristol with the areas that have not introduced the policy. We will evaluate the likely long-term outcomes on health and health and social care costs in order to understand the value for money of the policy. We will further organise discussion groups to find out what residents think of these policies. Finally, we will interview a wide range of professional stakeholders involved in the design and implementation of the policy, or those who are directly affected by it, to examine their experiences. We involved public and patient representatives in the original data collection project and the current proposal. This project will have a dedicated Public and Patient Involvement and Engagement Lead. A Study Oversight Group with an independent Chair will oversee the project.

We will also hold a public seminar to discuss the findings of the project with the community. We will work with PolicyBristol, Councils and Non-Governmental Organisations to develop and share the study findings with other policy makers and stakeholders through policy briefs and the general public; through various methods: for example, through information leaflets, press releases and blogs. We will also publish articles in journals and present the results at conferences.

Who is leading the research?

Professor Frank De Vocht, Professor in Epidemiology and Public Health Research, University of Bristol.

Further information:

For more information or to get involved in this project, please contact

The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care.