New figures from Public Health England (PHE) reveal England’s poorest areas are fast food hotspots, with five times more outlets found in these communities than in the most affluent.
The data also suggests fast food outlets – including chip shops, burger bars and pizza places – account for more than a quarter (26%) of all eateries in England.
The figures also show a variation in the number of fast food outlets across England, ranging from zero in some wards to over 100 in others.
PHE believes the increased availability of fast food is one of the reasons why over a third of children in England are overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school – a figure that is even higher in some deprived communities. This increases their risk of being overweight or obese adults and suffering preventable diseases including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.
Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, said: “It’s not surprising some children find it difficult to resist the lure of fast food outlets when many neighbourhoods are saturated with them.”
She adds: “Food outlets can make a contribution to our high streets. However, with the impact of obesity on local authority social care budgets estimated at £352 million per year, encouraging healthier choices can make a positive difference.”
With a quarter of our calories coming from food consumed outside the home, PHE wants to see restaurants including fast food outlets and takeaways play their part.
It has already challenged major players in the food industry to remove 20% of calories from popular foods – including chips, burgers, and pizzas – by 2024. This is in addition to its challenge to industry to reduce sugar in everyday products by 20% by 2020.
PHE is also supporting the idea announced by The Department of Health and Social Care of a consultation on mandatory calorie labelling in the out of home sector to help people make informed choices when eating out.
Many local authorities across England have already taken action to address their food environment with at least 40 areas having developed policies to restrict the growth of new takeaways and fast food outlets.
Some have developed ‘healthier zones’ to help tackle childhood obesity by limiting the number of outlets in areas with high concentrations of fast food outlets, high levels of deprivation, or where children gather – including near schools, community centres, parks, playgrounds and other open spaces.