New data shows number of fast food outlets in England has increased by 4,000 since 2014, sparking fears that councils are losing battle to limit obesity levels.
The total number of takeaway food shops in England has risen by 4,000 in the past three years, an increase of 8%, sparking fears that councils are losing the battle to limit obesity levels via planning rules that restrict new fast food outlets.
According to new figures provided to the Guardian by Cambridge University’s Centre for Diet and Activity Research (Cedar), there are now 56,638 takeaways in England – more than a quarter of all the country’s food outlets – with some of the heaviest concentrations of fast food found in England’s poorest and most deprived neighbourhoods.
“The junk food and sugary drinks sold by these outlets make an important contribution to the UK epidemic of obesity and diabetes,” said Professor Simon Capewell, vice-president for policy at the UK’s Faculty of Public Health. “Furthermore, the much greater density of fast food outlets in deprived neighbourhoods exacerbates existing, substantial inequalities in health. These trends are very worrying.”
The data also indicates a possible north-south divide in takeaway access. Of the 30 council areas where takeaways are the predominant kind of food outlet, 25 are in economically deprived areas of the north, with notable clusters in the north-west.
The figures will alarm policymakers concerned about rising levels of obesity and related illnesses, such as type 2 diabetes. Researchers have shown a link between increased exposure to fast food outlets, increased consumption of high-fat nutrient-poor food, higher body weight and greater risk of obesity.
“Despite the health impact of the obesity epidemic being well known, it is shocking that the number of fast food takeaways is increasing,” said Caroline Cerny, of the Obesity Health Alliance. “Whether it’s the marketing of junk food on billboards and TV, or the proximity of junk food outlets to schools, we know our environment has a huge impact on levels of overweightness and obesity.”
Since 2010, more than 20 councils in England have introduced planning regulations aimed at limiting the expansion of the takeaway sector locally on health grounds, including the imposition of 400m fast food exclusion zones around schools. NHS public health officials have recommended all councils consider adopting similar rules as a part of local obesity reduction initiatives.
But according to Professor Capewell: “Though many councils might wish to exercise planning restrictions on health grounds, they are constrained by the major, ongoing budget cuts imposed by central government. Councils are then put in an impossible position by being expected to maximise income from business rates, including promoting businesses that sell unhealthy commodities.”