Obesity and the environment: regulating the growth of fast food outlets

Public Health England have issued a report which addresses the opportunities to limit the number of fast food takeaways (primarily hot food takeaways, especially near schools) and ways in which fast food offers can be made healthier.

The report, written in conjunction with the Local Government Association (LGA) and the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH), summarises the importance of action on obesity and a specific focus on fast food takeaways, and outlines the regulatory and other approaches that can be taken at local level.

The report states that planning authorities can influence the built environment to improve health and reduce the extent to which it promotes obesity. The government’s public health strategy ‘Healthy lives, healthy people’, explicitly recognises that "health considerations are an important part of planning policy", and the Department of the Environment 2011 white paper made many explicit connections between planning and health. One of the ten recommendations of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges’ 2013 report on obesity was that "Public Health England should, in its first 18 months of operation, undertake an audit of local authority licensing and catering arrangements with the intention of developing formal recommendations on reducing the proximity of fast food outlets to schools, colleges, leisure centres and other places where children gather". It also recommended that local authority planning decisions should be subject to a health impact assessment.

It is further stated that it is only in recent years that local authorities have started to use the legal and planning systems to regulate the growth of fast food restaurants, including those near schools. There is thus an unavoidable lack of evidence that can demonstrate a causal link between actions and outcomes, although there is some limited evidence of associations between obesity and fast food, as well as with interventions to encourage children to stay in school for lunch. However, there are strong theoretical arguments for the value of restricting the growth in fast food outlets, and the complex nature of obesity is such that it is unlikely any single intervention would make a measurable difference to outcomes on its own.

Date: November 2013 Publication date

Author: Public Health England

DCP link: This item updates DCP section 4.12

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