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Higher mix of businesses potentially harmful to public’s health in North and Midlands

League table of UK’s major towns and cities shows main shopping areas too full of fast food outlets and tanning salons

Caroline White

Friday, 27 March 2015

Preston heads up a league table of 70 of the UK’s major towns and cities in offering the highest concentration of outlets in its main shopping area that are potentially harmful for the public’s health.

Nine of the top 10 worst offenders are in the North or the Midlands, many of them in areas that already experience high levels of deprivation and early deaths.

The league table was compiled by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) as part of its Health on the High Street campaign, which aims to make high streets healthier by encouraging businesses to take steps to promote health while also giving further powers to local authorities in the areas of planning and licensing. 

Based on public and expert opinion, the Society has identified bookmakers, payday loan shops, fast food outlets and tanning salons as having the most negative impact on health, and pharmacies, leisure centres, and health services as having the most positive impact.

Businesses were scored by over 2,000 members of the public and experts, on the extent to which they encourage healthy choices; promote social interaction; provide access to health advice; and promote positive mental wellbeing.

The top 10 unhealthiest retail areas were found in Preston, Middlesbrough, Coventry, Blackpool, Northampton, Wolverhampton, Grimbsy, Huddersfield, Stoke on Trent, and Eastbourne.

At the other end of the scale, Shrewsbury, Ayr, Salisbury, Perth, Hereford, Carlisle, Cambridge, Cheltenham, York and Bristol scored the best for the highest concentrations of potentially health promoting outlets.

RSPH is now calling on the next government to introduce a range of measures to make high streets more health promoting, including giving local authorities greater planning powers to prevent the proliferation of betting shops, payday lenders and fast food outlets, and for public health criteria to be a condition of licensing for all types of business.

It also wants to see mandatory food hygiene ratings linked to calorie and nutrition labelling for fast food outlets and a limit of 5% of each type of business on a high street in order to avoid oversaturation and provide affordable choice.

And it says that the government should introduce legislation to enable local councils to set their own differential business rates to encourage healthier outlets and discourage those that are detrimental to health.

Shirley Cramer CBE, RSPH Chief Executive commented: “While our ranking of towns and cities is by no means a reflection on whether these areas are generally healthy or unhealthy, our research does find higher concentrations of unhealthy businesses exist in places which already experience high levels of deprivation and premature mortality.”

She added: “We recognise that businesses investing in High Streets are important for local economies; but this shouldn’t be at any price. The Five Year Forward View calls for us to move ‘further and faster’ to improve the public’s health. This could be achieved by granting local authorities enhanced powers to create a rich mix of health promoting businesses on our high streets and encouraging businesses to promote healthy choices.”

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