Childhood obesity: Time for action Contents


72.According to the National Diet and Nutrition survey just over 1 in 5 children eat a takeaway meal at home at least once a week. This may under-estimate total takeaway food consumption by children, as it does not include takeaway food consumed outside the home.78 Portion sizes of takeaways are often very large—in a recent study conducted in Liverpool, three quarters of takeaway meals (excluding side orders and drinks) studied exceeded 1125 calories, with a quarter exceeding the recommended daily intake for a boy aged 9–13 years (1800 calories).79 In 2017, there were 56,638 takeaway outlets in England, a rise of 8% (4,000 restaurants) in the past three years, according to Ordnance Survey data. The takeaway industry has reported a 34% increase in nominal expenditure on takeaway food from £7.9 billion in 2009 to £9.9 billion in 2016. Annual growth of 2.6% per annum is forecast over the next five years.80

73.Takeaways are likely to be contributing to inequalities in childhood obesity. Takeaway food can represent a very low-cost option to the purchaser, especially to children, who are highly price sensitive.81 Duncan Selbie, Chief Executive of Public Health England, told us that in some places £1 can purchase as many as 900 calories.82 There are 2–3 times as many takeaways in the most deprived areas of England compared to the least deprived areas, and children from lower socio-economic groups consume takeaways more frequently than other children. Takeaway consumption is associated with a greater increase in total calorie consumption for children in lower socio-economic groups than children in higher socio-economic groups.83 PHE noted in written evidence:

National data show that children living in areas surrounded by fast food outlets are more likely to be overweight or obese. Evidence has demonstrated the associations between neighbourhood fast food takeaway density, consumption and obesity. Changing neighbourhood takeaway food environment may be particularly effective for groups of low socioeconomic status.84

74.In March 2017, Public Health England published ‘Strategies for Encouraging Healthier “Out Of Home” Food Provision’, a toolkit for councils working with small food businesses, highlighting the importance of local authorities using licensing powers to influence the provision of healthier food.85 However, evidence to this inquiry argued that, in order to implement the strategies effectively, local authorities need increased power to respond to obesity challenges in the realms of licensing, planning, and place-shaping.86 The Association of Directors of Public Health argued:

Local authorities and communities need to be given more power and flexibility to respond. In ADPH’s most recent policy survey, 70% of Directors of Public Health who responded said that amending licensing legislation to empower local authorities to control the total availability of alcohol, gambling and junk food outlets was one of their top five priorities. Action is needed to help local authorities tackle the proliferation of fast-food takeaways, particularly around schools.87

75.Public Health England have built on this call, arguing:

Our experience from working with local authorities is that there are differences in interpretation about the extent to which existing powers can be used and enforced, and uncertainty surrounding best practice. Political and economic challenges also exist for local authorities. Although public health can be made a material consideration in planning decisions, it is sometimes a secondary concern. Local authorities can also lack information about how and where best to act on the food environment.88

76.On top of this, evidence to this inquiry pointed out that councils’ planning powers can do nothing to address the clustering of fast food outlets that are already in place. Planning experts point out that the planning system is currently not designed to deal with the detail of how a business is operated, but rather with how land is used.89

77.We regret that the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government declined our invitation to give oral evidence to this inquiry. We consider this response to be indicative of a lack of their own commitment to cross-departmental engagement on the subject of takeaways and childhood obesity.

78.We repeat the calls of our predecessor Health Committee, and argue that the next round of the Government’s childhood obesity plan must, as a matter of urgency, include provisions for changes to planning legislation to make it easier for local authorities to limit the proliferation of unhealthy food outlets in their areas. The Government must also provide further clarity for local authorities on the extent to which existing powers can be used and enforced as we heard that planning inspectors do not take a consistent approach to appeals.

79.Local authorities need further powers to limit the prevalence of high fat, sugar and salt food and drink billboard adverting near schools. Currently, the only powers available to local authorities extend to the positioning of the billboards themselves, not the content of the advertising. Local authorities also need further powers to tackle the proliferation of existing takeaways.

80.We strongly support recommendations, including those which we heard from Public Health England in our most recent evidence session, that health should be made a licensing objective for local authorities.

79 Ibid p.1

80 Ibid p.1

81 Ibid p.1

82 Q252 Duncan Selbie

85 Strategies for Encouraging Healthier ‘Out of Home’ Food Provision: A toolkit for local councils working with small food businesses, PHE, 2017

88 Strategies for Encouraging Healthier ‘Out of Home’ Food Provision: A toolkit for local councils working with small food businesses, PHE, 2017 p.42

Published: 30 May 2018