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16/04/2020

Hot food takeaways – wake up and smell the grease!

Councils that want to tackle childhood obesity by restricting hot food takeaways near schools are under pressure from the big chains, says Gillian Morgan. They need to be bolder in their approaches to policymaking and work more closely with colleagues in public health

Hot food takeaway businesses are cheap to start up and run, especially if they are using nutrient-poor empty calories to sell in areas where the multiple deprivation index is already prevalent.

Bold planners are tackling this. Policies to restrict new hot food takeaways near schools form one of the few concrete ways local authorities have to stop their areas becoming saturated with unhealthy food.

Yet even these tools are coming under attack, as local authorities lack capacity to provide adequate evidence to stand up to the resources of global chains.

If we are serious about tackling child obesity, we should also look at existing takeaways and other outlets selling to kids around school hours. Many aggressively market school kids’ discounts or ‘uniform deals’.

"Central government recommends that councils should use planning policies to control access to unhealthy food, but draft policies are being withdrawn under pressure from objections by takeaway chains"

Central government recommends that councils should use planning policies to control access to unhealthy food, but draft policies are being withdrawn under pressure from objections by takeaway chains and many more councils fear the financial implications of pursuing these policies before they even begin.

Worse still, some councils value the economic benefits of small takeaway businesses and some planners think they are being elitist in restricting more hot food takeaways opening in what are often poorer areas. Wake up and smell the grease! People in food poverty or living in conditions lacking basic amenities don’t want to rely on junk food; it’s not a choice but a necessity.

In Nottingham, the policy was challenged by the big fast-food chains and the planning inspector decided there was insufficient “locally specific evidence” to keep it. Why would the evidence be different in Nottingham? Are children’s bodies in some parts of the UK more resistant to diabetes and heart disease?

In Gateshead, the quality of food on sale is no different from any other area – but the council has gone to the expense of having takeaway meals analysed. Since putting in place planning policy to restrict them, there has been an overall fall in the number of hot food takeaways. This was a joint effort between planning, public health and environmental health.

Despite national targets for obesity reduction, there is only so much local councils can do with their existing powers. The government must look into more radical options to improve the healthiness of what is on offer if it is committed to tackling child obesity.

Gillian Morgan MRTPI is planning lead with Sustain, the alliance for better food and farming

Image credit | Shutterstock

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