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Fast food outlets cluster in poorest areas of England

Chip shops, burger bars, and pizza places make up one in four of nation’s eateries

Caroline White

Friday, 29 June 2018

There are five times as many fast food outlets in England’s poorest areas as there are in its most affluent ones, reveal new figures* issued today by Public Health England (PHE).

But the prevalence varies widely, ranging from zero in some wards to over 100 in others.

However, chip shops, burger bars, and pizza places, among others, now make up more than a quarter (26%) of all the nation’s eateries, the figures show.

Many of these outlets provide little nutritional information in-store, and children may find it more difficult to choose healthier options, when these outlets are so numerous, points out PHE.

Many local authorities across England have taken action to address their food environment. At least 40 areas have developed policies to restrict the growth of new takeaways and fast food outlets.

Among other things, they have created “healthier zones” which limit the number of outlets in areas with clusters of fast food outlets, high levels of deprivation, or near schools, community centres, parks, playgrounds and other open spaces where children gather.

Not all fast food is unhealthy, but it is typically higher in salt, calories and saturated fat, boosting the risk of overweight, says PHE.

Over a third of children in England are overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school─ a figure that is even higher in some deprived communities. This increases their risk of being overweight or obese as adults and developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.

Dr Alison Tedstone, PHE chief nutritionist, said: “It’s not surprising some children find it difficult to resist the lure of fast food outlets when many neighbourhoods are saturated with them.

"Local authorities have the power to help shape our environment and support people in making healthier choices. They need to question whether these fast food hotspots are compatible with their work to help families and young children live healthier lives.”

With the impact of obesity on local authority social care budgets estimated at £352 million a year, encouraging healthier choices could make a positive difference, says PHE.

The Department of Health and Social Care recently announced the second chapter of its childhood obesity plan**, to halve childhood obesity by 2030.

It includes a programme to help local authorities learn from each other and a consultation on mandatory calorie labelling in the out-of-home sector, to help people make informed choices when eating out.

Commenting on the findings, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health president Professor Russell Viner said: “These figures are hugely concerning. We already know that children from poorer families are more likely to be overweight or obese, a problem which will never be tackled if their local communities continue to be inundated with fast food restaurants and takeaways.

“Local authorities have the powers to refuse planning permission for these outlets, and we hope that recent government proposals to develop resources to support communities will encourage them to use these powers. We need to see concerted action at a local level to help create healthier environments for families and ensure all children, wherever they live, have the best possible start in life.”

Cllr Izzi Seccombe, chairman of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board, said councils had been hindered by insufficient planning powers, which needed to be addressed as a matter of urgency.

“Numerous councils have set curbs on new fast food outlets, but current legislation means they lack planning powers to tackle the clustering of existing takeaways already open,” she said.

“New legislation is needed to empower councils to help drive forward an effective redesign of damaging food environments to help address health inequalities and tackle the obesity crisis, which requires a joined-up approach.”

*Putting healthier food environments at the heart of planning. A report prepared by Public Health England, 29 June 2018.
**Childhood obesity: a plan for action, chapter 2. A report prepared by the Department of Health and Social Care, 25 June 2018.

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