I was asked for my views on this proposed ban today by ITV Daybreak. Salford City Council is proposing that fast food outlets (like MacDonald’s and local fish and chip shops) near schools should be banned from serving hot food before 5pm, in an aim to reduce the obesity crisis. The ban would only prevent new outlets that apply for a licence and the public is being asked for their views before the ban is implemented.
If unhealthy food is within easy reach, you’re more tempted to go for it. And when you’re hungry, the smell of hot food can be even more alluring. I advise people wanting to lose weight to remove the temptation by not keeping unhealthy snacks accessible– out of sight is out of mind.
But this proposed ban only addresses new businesses, so children who frequently visit existing outlets are unlikely to change their habits. Hence, I doubt this ban would have a significant effect. Also, children are hungry after school – and if the fast food options aren’t around, they’ll probably just go for sweet fizzy drinks, chocolates, crisps, doughnuts and pies instead. So there is no evidence that they will buy more nutritious foods.
With around one third of children being overweight or obese, something does need to be done. The issue requires joined up thinking and action from all levels – manufacturers, government, parents, teachers, catering businesses, for example. We need to find ways to make it easier for parents to provide healthier choices within a hectic lifestyle and limited budget; much of the learning happens at home. The tastes developed in childhood are likely to remain in adult life, so we all have a responsibility to ensure good eating habits at an early age.
I would encourage fast food outlets to take on the Department of Health’s Responsibility Deal and use the Food Standards Agency Tips on Chips advice: fry fish at 175C, ensure they are not using hydrogenated oils, cut thicker chips, shake and drain, and so on.
The environment plays a huge part but this ban is one small measure that won’t make a significant difference. What it has done, however, is got us debating. Increasing awareness of the issues is a first step towards making a conscious change.
Check out my Twitter interactions with key opinion leaders: