Public Health England has released a data map revealing the density of fast food outlets in different areas of the country.

The research used data from the Food Standards Agency. In this instance, the term ‘fast food’ refers to rapidly available energy-dense food; so the range of outlets mentioned includes (but is not limited to) pizza outlets, kebab shops, burger bars, chicken shops and fish and chip shops.

However, the data may not provide a full picture as some multi-functional outlets offering fast food options may be classed as restaurants or cafes, and not included in the data set.

Which areas were the densest fast food outlets?

The top five local authority areas that have the highest number of fast food outlets per 100,000 population were as follows:

  • Blackpool
  • Knowsley
  • Kingston upon Hull
  • Liverpool
  • Manchester

Looking at the map, there does appear to be a disparity between the North and South of England; there are more Northern local authorities with high densities than there are Southern.

Is there a link to deprivation?

The results of the fast food outlet data have been compared to the 2015 report ‘The English Indices of Deprivation’. The statistics show that areas that are more deprived are more likely to have a higher number of fast food outlets.

Of the top five districts with the highest density of fast food outlets, four were also in the top 10 percent in England for having the highest number of deprived neighbourhoods.

What is being done about the obesity ‘crisis’?

According to the supporting report, obesity is costing local authorities an estimated £352 million per year. Therefore tackling obesity and encouraging healthier lifestyles could have a real impact on the availability and distribution of public funds.

PHE believes that our local environment can have a significant impact on our behaviour, including our diet. Children in particular might be more likely to make poor food choices when bombarded by tempting yet unhealthy foods.

So, local authorities are taking action. New initiatives are being developed at council level, in conjunction with PHE, to restrict fast food outlets from opening in areas with a high concentration of them, as well in areas where children gather (such as near schools, parks or playgrounds).

PHE points out that it has previously provided help to small businesses to make healthy improvements through their ‘toolkits’. By providing practical information for small businesses, PHE hopes that they can learn to reduce their salt, fat and sugar content and aim for a healthier menu.  

Is all fast food bad for us?

We tend to associate fast food with calorie-dense items that are high in salt and saturated fat, such as burgers, chips, pizzas, fried chicken and so on. However, fast food doesn’t have to be unhealthy.

Some high street fast food chains have developed their menu ranges to include healthier options. The majority of popular food chains now also publish their nutritional information, so that consumers can make an informed choice. PHE has also challenged the larger brands in fast food to reduce their calorie content per serving by one fifth in the next decade (which, as you may have read here, KFC recently pledged to do).

We’ve written before that, generally, it’s better to eat out less and prepare food at home wherever you can. In your own kitchen, you can exercise much more control over the amount of salt and fat that goes into what you (and your family) are eating. For the most part, cooking at home is also cheaper, even if it isn’t always as convenient.

There are undoubtedly a range of factors at play in the data we’ve discussed above. But it’s arguably evident that for many low income families, cooking at home might not always be as straightforward due to time constraints, or not having the practical means. This is perhaps why a multilateral approach, involving local government but also including action from larger fast-food providers, is so crucial.

You can read more about the report here.