Childhood Obesity: Banning Fast Food Near Schools?

The childhood obesity epidemic is a public health battle that has been heavily publicised recently. The introduction of the sugar tax and the 100 calorie snack rule for children are just some of the measures that have been implemented this year in an attempt to slow the soaring rates of childhood obesity. With an updated childhood obesity strategy due to be published this summer, several new strategies have been suggested, including banning fast food shops near schools.

The Big Problem

In 2016-2017, 1 in 5 children in year 6 were classified as obese and over a third were classified as overweight. Childhood obesity has been a growing problem for many years now with the numbers continuing to rise each year despite efforts made to tackle it. From PE schemes to sugar taxes and healthy eating programmes, many strategies have been put in place with little effect. These children are the future generation and the likelihood is that an obese child will become an obese adult with a much higher risk of many conditions including type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Therefore, action needs to be taken.

The next segment of the Government's obesity strategy will update the prior publication from 2016 which brought in the sugar tax on soft drinks. The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health is calling for the Government to introduce a ban on fast food outlets near schools. Prof Russell Viner, president of the Royal College, said that availability of fast food near schools makes it easy for children to resort to these types of foods as that is what is in front of them the minute they leave school. This is very much true, many schools have a variety of cheap chicken shops or kebab shops right near their doors, and if that is what children are greeted by when they leave school and they are hungry, this is what they will have. Particularly if their friends have made it cool to eat there, many other children will follow. The proposed ban suggest that no new fast food outlets should be allowed to open within 400 metres of every school in the UK. The Mayor of London has already proposed this ban for within London, but now the Royal College is pushing for this to be enforced across the UK.

Many people may argue that this takes away freedom of choice for both the children and the businesses and that we should be aiming to educate children to make healthier choices themselves, not just restricting their access. However many education programmes have already been put in place and the evidence is that these are just not enough, both for adults and for children. Take the 5 a day scheme for example, this scheme has been heavily publicised for years and most people in the UK are more than aware of it, yet only 26% of adults and 16% of children are actually eating 5 portions a day. If access and availability is not geared towards affordable, healthy foods, then that is not what people will eat. If children were surrounded by healthier food shops when they exited school hungry, that is likely what they would immediately go and eat. 

This next instalment of the childhood obesity strategy is due to be published by Theresa May later this summer, so we will soon find out whether this ban will become a reality. What are your thoughts? Is this a necessary action or should we be focusing our attention elsewhere?
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