An action plan to bring Britain’s escalating levels of obesity into control, unveiled by ministers this week, includes a bold move to control the spread of fast food outlets, particularly around schools and parks.
Details of the strategy are due to be announced tomorrow when Health Secretary Alan Johnson will also name the sites of what are to become Britain’s first ‘healthy towns’. This program, based on a French scheme that aims to increase inhabitants’ physical activity, will prioritize walking and cycling, outdoor green spaces and initiatives to promote healthy diets.
A key aim is to limit the number of fast food outlets operating within given areas, especially where there is a high population of children. However, local councils rarely use their power to impose such restrictions, and a Local Government Association spokesperson has stated that, ‘No council has used this power because there is no evidence that it makes the slightest bit of difference to obesity’.
Local authorities will be urged to collaborate by putting public health interests before commercial considerations, and to start using their planning powers to refuse applications that would create a concentration of fast food premises.
The government has acknowledged that these measures do not represent a solution to the obesity epidemic but rather the start of a 10-year campaign to confront a problem that, left unchecked, would claim many lives, cost the nation billions and overburden the National Health System.