Childhood obesity: follow-up Contents

6The out-of-home sector

70.The out-of-home sector (restaurants, takeaways, etc) is particularly important because it now accounts for a large proportion of the food we eat. Sugar reduction—the evidence for action reported that around 18% of meals were eaten out of the home during the year ending March 2015, a 5% increase on the previous year, with 75% of people reporting eating out or buying takeaway food in 2014 (compared to 68% in 2010).95

Planning powers for local authorities

71.Our earlier report concluded

116. We have been told that while local authorities are well placed to influence local environments in an attempt to tackle childhood obesity, funding constraints threaten their ability to do this effectively. A simple way to boost local authorities’ effectiveness in this area would be change planning legislation to simplify the processes for limiting the proliferation of unhealthy food outlets in local areas, which we have heard can be time-consuming and difficult. We recommend that this change should be made. In particular, health should be included as a material planning consideration.

72.The Government rejected this recommendation, arguing

Local authorities already have a range of planning powers to create healthier environments in their local area, both through their local plan and in taking individual planning decisions. The National Planning Policy Framework makes clear that health objectives should be taken into account by local planning authorities when developing planning policy. The Planning Practice Guidance on health and wellbeing states that promoting access to healthy food is one of the issues that could be considered when planning healthy communities. A number of local planning authorities have been proactive in addressing the issue of hot food takeaways.96

73.However, in a submission to us ahead of our most recent oral evidence session the Association of Directors of Public Health repeated the call for health to be made a material planning consideration, amongst other measures to help local authorities address the contribution of the out-of-home sector to childhood obesity:

Action is needed to help local authorities tackle the proliferation of fast-food takeaways, particularly in areas where children often frequent such as around schools. Health needs to be included as a material planning consideration and should be a condition for licensing of all types of business.97

74.Duncan Selbie, Chief Executive of Public Health England, agreed that there is more which could be done to assist local government:

There is a whole lot of current and future opportunity for local government to be even more engaged about the planning decisions that they are making. There is a lot going on with DCLG about revisions to the national planning guidance, which will hopefully help that along. It is not that there is no progress, but there is much more that can be done and it speaks to the question about inequalities around the nation. We need to give further help, particularly at local government level, about permissive power on planning.98

75.We repeat our call for change to planning legislation to make it easier for local authorities to limit the proliferation of unhealthy food outlets in their areas. Health should be included as a material planning consideration.

Other measures

76.Other measures will also be necessary if we are to further reduce the impact on childhood obesity of the out-of-home sector. The Minister told us

Out of home is a challenging sector because of its diversity, and that was recognised right from the beginning of the introduction of the childhood obesity plan. It is encouraging that even there we have seen some progress since the introduction of the childhood obesity strategy. In particular, Subway has committed to reformulating some of its products, and we are in conversation with some other industry partners. That is one of the most encouraging parts of the progress that we have made so far, as that was one of the areas we were most worried about. That is not to underestimate the challenge we face, as we have discussed already, which is why what will be most important is gathering the data—transparently gathering the data—and holding the different sectors of the industry very clearly and carefully to account as we go forward and, if we feel that we are not making the progress we need, considering the levers we discussed.99

77.We noted earlier in this report that we want to see evidence that the Government has some concrete policy proposals which it is prepared to implement to back up the threat of further action if the voluntary reformulation programme does not go as far or as fast as necessary to tackle childhood obesity.100 That applies with particular force to the out-of-home sector: Sugar reduction—the evidence for action points out that the salt reduction programme saw “limited output” from that particular sector, especially in the early days of the programme.101 Ahead of our next hearing on this subject, we call on the Government to provide evidence of progress in the out-of-home sector. We will be scrutinising both the levers which it has used to secure change and those which it has in reserve if progress is inadequate.

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23 March 2017