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“2020health is an important and thoughtful contributor to the health debate”

Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, Chairman, Health Select Committee


The Guardian Clamp down on takeaways near schools to stem rise in obesity, says thinktank

2020health calls for outlets to be licenced and says limiting their numbers will help schools to support healthy eating.

The government has been urged to scale back the large number of takeaways near schools to reduce children’s intake of fast food, as part of a renewed drive against obesity.

The report published by the 2020health thinktank, titled Careless Eating Costs Lives, says some chip shops, kebab houses and chicken joints should be closed as the temptation they pose for pupils is damaging schools’ efforts to promote healthy eating.

Julia Manning, the thinktank’s chief executive, said: “Fast-food outlets should all need a licence in the same way that off-licences do. There are far too many fast-food premises near schools. Limiting their number would have the support of schools and would help create a healthier environment for the schools. At the moment they are undermining schools’ attempts to help students to choose healthy meal options.”

Work to contain the UK’s status as “the fat man of Europe” and what the World Health Organisation has called the UK’s obesity-related “public health timebomb” will fail unless the location and numbers of outlets are addressed, she said.

The Children’s Food Campaign, an alliance of health and educational bodies, backed a clampdown on takeaways. Malcolm Clark, the coordinator of the campaign, said: “Just as people are rightly concerned about betting shops or pubs and bars, or in this case takeaways being too clustered in a particular area, councils should be given the power to decide these things, and be able to put public health above the profits from unhealthy food.

“The revolution in school food now needs to go beyond the school gates to the high street and take in the places where pupils congregate at lunchtime and after school,” he added.

Tam Fry, spokesman for the National Obesity Forum, said closing existing takeaways would be difficult, as they are seen as important to the local economy. But he backed a ban on new ones being allowed to open near schools and limits to their opening hours.

“Salford, for instance, has stopped any sales from such franchises until 5pm. What is needed like a hole in the head is for the local lord mayor, as in Birmingham, is to join in the fun and games when one opens. Cutting the ribbon at a new KFC within walking distance of a primary school, when the local council had pledged a strict policy to limit such restaurants, is beyond belief,” Fry said. The obesity crisis is so severe that menus in cafes and restaurants should display the calorific content of every dish, the thinktank says.

It is also calling for very overweight people who slim down, smokers who quit or very inactive people who take a set number of steps every week to receive vouchers from the NHS to exchange for free milk, fruit and vegetables, in an extension of the government’s existing “healthy start” scheme.

An initiative in Scotland rewarding smokers for giving up with vouchers has been a success, said Manning.

It also wants the ban on foods high in sugar, salt or fat being advertised during children’s programming to be extended to between 7am and 9pm every day, and for supermarkets to have to display healthy and fresh foods in prominent positions, rather than giving those locations to processed and sweet foods.

Fry, though, said that reward schemes do not work in the long-term but that evidence showed that pointing shoppers towards healthy options increased sales of them.