Direct Link Between Obesity and Poverty Becomes Clear in England

Direct Link Between Obesity and Poverty Becomes Clear in England
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In high-income countries, obesity is more prevalent in poorer areas than it is in wealthier ones. In England, a report by Public Health England (PHE) shows one of the reasons why people of lower socioeconomic status are more vulnerable to obesity.

The data compared levels of deprivation with numbers of fast food establishments like burger joints and pizza restaurants. Almost half of those establishments are located in the most deprived areas of England, the report shows.

Only 3% of the country’s fast food restaurants are situated in the most affluent 10% of England, while the poorest areas have 17% of these establishments.

Of the 51,460 fast food outlets in England, 24,072 (47%) are in the poorest 30% of the country.

The PHE is now calling on local authorities to consider reducing the growth of fast food restaurants near schools, parks, and other places where children play.

Fast Food for the Kids

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In England, 1 in 3 children is overweight or obese by the age of 11. Additionally, children from poorer areas are more than twice as likely to be overweight. What’s more, kids exposed to fast food on the way home from school are more likely to stop for a bite and consume an unhealthy diet, according to experts. [2]

Professor Russell Viner, of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, commented:

“Kids are coming out of school hungry and finding themselves surrounded by cheap chicken shops, chip shops and other types of tempting junk food.  This food is tasty and cheap – it’s easy to blame the individual, but humans, particularly children, will find it hard to resist tempting food.

Children from wealthy backgrounds will not be surrounded by junk food in this way.”

Leading pediatricians called on the government in April to ban fast food outlets from setting up shop within 400 meters – less than a 1/4 mile – of schools. [1]

Dr. Alison Tedstone, PHE’s chief nutritionist, said:

“It’s not surprising some children find it difficult to resist the lure of fast food outlets when many neighborhoods are saturated with them.

Local authorities have the power to help shape our environment and support people in making healthier choices. They need to question whether these fast food hotspots are compatible with their work to help families and young children live healthier lives.”

Read: U.N. Expert Calls Junk Food a Human Rights Concern

The Local Government Association wants to bestow greater power to councils to help them break up existing groups of takeaway restaurants on high streets. The association said that authorities are working with businesses to help them create healthier menus.

Izzi Seccombe, chair of the LGA’s community wellbeing board, explained there is only so much that councils can do to stop takeaway restaurants from popping up in poverty-stricken areas at the moment because they are not in a position to set the necessary rules to do so.

“Numerous councils have set curbs on new fast food outlets but current legislation means they lack planning powers to tackle the clustering of existing takeaways already open. New legislation is needed to empower councils to help drive forward an effective redesign of damaging food environments to help address health inequalities and tackle the obesity crisis, which requires a joined-up approach.”

Some local authorities are in the process of creating “healthy zones” where the number of fast food outlets is limited. In these zones, all hot food takeaway restaurants must submit applications accompanied by a health impact assessment that looks at: [2]

  • Where children gather
  • Numbers of hot food takeaways that already exist
  • High levels of obesity

No applications have been recently approved.

Natural Society

Similar Issues in the U.S.

In the United States, as many as 23.5 million people live in “food deserts” – urban lower-socioeconomic areas where there are no supermarkets but plenty of mini-marts that sell sugary, fatty foods full of empty calories.

A U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) survey released in 2015 shows that more than 1 in 3 children and teens ages 2 to 19 consume health-harming fast food every day. The CDC survey also found that children who live just above the poverty line and below get about 12% of their daily calories from fast food.


[1] The Guardian

[2] BBC News