Give boroughs more clout to tackle childhood obesity

  • By Gemma Kappala-R...

London boroughs need stronger planning powers to fight childhood obesity by clamping down on fast food outlets near schools.

London Councils, which represents the 32 boroughs and the City of London, is today calling for the government’s new national childhood obesity strategy to support boroughs’ efforts to improve children’s health by strengthening planning and licensing laws.

Strengthening the position of health in the National Planning Policy Framework would simplify the process and improve the consistency of planning decisions, ensuring they address local health issues, particularly where there is high saturation of fast food outlets near schools.

Increased local power over business rates would also enable boroughs to use discounts to incentivise healthier food establishments.

Cllr Teresa O’Neill OBE, London Councils’ Executive member for health, said:

“The health and wellbeing of London’s children is at stake and swift action is needed to reduce childhood obesity levels. Boroughs are already using existing planning powers to regulate the number of fast food outlets near schools, along high streets and town centres, and they are sharing best practice to ensure that planning decisions are made in the right places for the right reasons.

“Giving boroughs more clout in the planning system to prioritise public health will allow us to create a healthier environment for London’s children and young people, which when combined with other initiatives will have a significant impact on childhood obesity rates in the capital.”

Fast food outlets need targeted action as they are a convenient and affordable source of food for children, who may not be aware that a significant proportion of their recommended daily salt and sugar intake comes from these meals. Some shops also use student offers to appeal to school children.

Children from deprived backgrounds are twice as likely to be obese and overweight as those from more affluent homes. London contains 10 of the 33 most deprived local authorities on average and general deprivation remains widespread across particular parts of the city.

Case study

London Borough of Islington

The Islington Fairness Commission was set up in June 2010 to look at how to make the borough a fairer place. Among the recommendations made by the commission was to seek to reduce the number or check the further proliferation of fast food outlets near schools. The London Borough of Islington now has a policy to resist new hot food takeaways within 200m of primary and secondary schools, in order to reduce easy access to establishments which generally offer more unhealthy food. This approach mirrors that taken in other boroughs and has been upheld in numerous planning appeal decisions.

Clusters of hot food takeaways can affect the character, function and health and wellbeing of an area. Islington is developing detailed planning guidance – the Location and Concentration of Uses Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) – to aid assessment of planning applications and help establish whether a new hot food takeaway would lead to or exacerbate a concentration of such establishments.

The SPD requires detailed information about how proposed hot food takeaways will operate and puts in place measures to mitigate the impact of new hot food takeaways where they are permitted. For example, all new takeaways will be required to achieve the Healthy Catering Commitment Standard.

This is one of a wide range of measures that the London Borough of Islington and its partners are taking to support residents to maintain a healthy weight, reflecting the complexity of the causes of excess weight and obesity.