Takeaway ban near schools to help fight child
Councils across England are banning new takeaways from opening within 400 yards of any school, youth club or park, in an attempt to tackle the growing toll of obesity, strokes and heart disease.
Waltham Forest in east London was the first to begin turning down applications from people who want to set up takeaways near schools or young people’s facilities and now at least 15 other local authorities either have, or plan to, follow the example.
“There are 255 fast-food outlets in the borough, which is far too many already; that’s one for every 357 families,” said Terry Wheeler, a Labour councillor and Waltham Forest’s cabinet member for enterprise and investment.
“The mess associated with them ends up in nearby streets; bones from chicken takeaways get dropped and attract rats; they spoil the look of shopping parades and there’s a strong association between fast-food places and young people eating unhealthily when they are ravenous, both at lunchtime and after school.”
Barking and Dagenham council is finalising a plan that would limit the number of fast-food premises and impose a £1,000 levy on any new outlets, to be spent on tackling childhood obesity. Chains such as McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and Kentucky Fried Chicken objected, but the National Obesity Forum, Chartered Institute of Environmental Health and Child Growth Foundation backed the move.
The council is also working with its local NHS primary care trust (PCT) to help make takeaway products healthier. Tower Hamlets, also in east London, is doing the same and offering food preparation staff free nutrition workshops. It has set up a healthy eating awards scheme for caterers as part of a £4.7m “healthy borough programme”.
Chip shops, kebab shops, pizza outlets and Indian and Chinese carryout restaurants are working with councils in many parts of the country to make their dishes lower in fat, salt, sugar and calories while preserving their taste, appeal and cost.
In Liverpool, for example, eight Chinese takeaways, eight Indian restaurants and four other fast-food premises have agreed to participate in Eatright Liverpool, a joint initiative between the city council, PCT and Liverpool John Moores University to bring in healthier menus. Under the £1m NHS-funded scheme, nutritionists from the university, led by food science lecturer Dr Leo Stevenson, will devise new formulations of popular products for fast-food businesses across the city. They have acted after the council nutritionally analysed the contents of 300 takeaway dishes and found staggeringly high levels of salt, saturated fats and calories.
For example, a Chinese dish of beef and green peppers in blackbean sauce contained 27.6g of salt – almost five times an adult’s recommended daily intake. A pepperoni pizza had 3,320 calories, far in excess of the advised daily maximum of 1,940 and 2,550 1,940 for women and 2,550 for men.
Rachel Long, the Eatright project manager, said: “I knew that takeaway meals weren’t good for you. But I was absolutely shocked by the results of our study. It’s unbelievable to think that someone eating just one dish could be consuming as much as 28g of salt.
“We aren’t saying to people don’t eat takeaway food. But we do want to make dishes more nutritious because salt and saturated fats in particular are closely associated with problems such as obesity, cardiovascular [disease], diabetes and high blood pressure.”
Councils in other parts of the country, such as Wandsworth in London, are doing similar things, but on a smaller scale. “There’s an invisible revolution going on in one of the most popular and unhealthy areas of British food culture, the takeaway,” said Professor Jack Winkler, director of the Nutrition Policy Unit at London Metropolitan University. “The plan is that consumers don’t notice; that you don’t tell them that the new products are healthy and that they can’t taste the fact that a certain amount of salt, for example, has been taken out of one of their favourite dishes.”
Britain’s attachment to takeaways means quiet reformulation, rather than simply telling people not to go there. “This isn’t authoritarian puritanism, eat your greens, five-a-day hectoring or an assault on Britain’s love affair with takeaways,” added Winkler. “This is a gradual, unobtrusive way of leading people to a healthier diet, and a much more sophisticated way of dealing with the takeaway’s undeniable popularity.”
Food companies had adopted this approach in recent years, he said, cutting salt content in soups, beans, crisps and tinned spaghetti without losing sales.
The Food Standards Agency is monitoring developments closely. It is already conducting a pilot study among about 80 chip shops in Cambridgeshire, Greater Manchester and Northern Ireland, helping them make their fried potatoes healthier by changing the thickness of the chips, the temperature of the cooking oil and the size of the portions.
It also plans to produce a series of advice leaflets for producers of each of the main different types of takeaway food, starting with chippies and then doing the same for sandwiches, Indian, Italian and Chinese dishes, chicken and chips and traditional British cafes.
Leicester city council has developed another tactic: banning chip and burger vans from trading outside schools. Councillors hope that will deter pupils from leaving school at lunchtime and increase the numbers having the nutritious meals that have become standard since Jamie Oliver exposed how unhealthy school food was. Schools in the city demanded action after seeing how mobile fast-food vendors parked outside were enticing large numbers of children. Since late 2008 the only food that can be sold outside schools is ice cream, and only at the end of the day. The Department of Health’s childhood obesity national support team has praised the scheme and other councils may adopt it too.
Many authorities have begun to copy Gateshead council’s provision at chip shops of salt shakers with only half the usual number of holes in the top.
Councils are holding a conference on takeaways in West Bromwich on 30 June, while the children’s services network of the Local Government Information Unit will also discuss action at a seminar on children and obesity on 19 March.