Friday 12 August 2022

What impact did a blanket ban on new takeaways have in Gateshead?

Posted by Heather Brown, Professor of Health Inequalities at Lancaster University

At the end of a road I used to live on, there was a wonderful curry house that always smelled amazing every time you walked by, even if it was 8am in the morning and they were just starting to prepare the food for the day. Whilst I lived there, I ate more takeaway curries then I have in any of my other many houses which were not so conveniently located to delicious smelling food.

The food available to us in our environment is likely to influence what we eat and subsequently our health. The use of planning policy can be one way for both local and national government to help shape a healthy environment by limiting or restricting where certain types of food outlets can be located. About half of all local authorities in England have some type of planning guidelines to restrict new fast-food outlets. In England there are three main types of planning policy used to promote a healthy food environment:

1. restricting new fast-food outlets near schools.

2. restricting new fast-food outlets if the density of existing outlets has surpassed a certain threshold of all retail outlets (e.g. no more than 20% of all outlets can be fast-food).

3. restricting new fast-food outlets if childhood obesity rates are above a certain threshold (e.g. above 20% based upon data from National Childhood Measurement Programme for children aged 4-5 and 10-11).

What Gateshead did

Gateshead Council, like many local authorities in North East England, has childhood overweight and obesity rates that are higher than the national average. To try and reduce childhood overweight and obesity to less than 10% by 2025, Gateshead implemented all three types of planning guidance (a school exclusion zone, restricting new outlets by retail density, and restricting new outlets by childhood obesity rates). This is effectively a blanket ban on establishing a new premise for use as a fast-food outlet if the building was not already being used for that purpose. Buildings that were being used for fast-food could change ownership and continue to sell fast-food. This guidance was implemented in June 2015.

As part of an NIHR Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) North East and North Cumbria (NENC) funded project, we evaluated if Gateshead Council’s approach to planning had any significant impact on the density and proportion of fast-food outlets in Gateshead compared to other local authorities in the North East which did not have any type of planning guidance. Data on food outlets came from the Food Standards Agency Food Hygiene Rating Scheme Data. Our analysis covered 2012-2019 (we did not include data during the Covid-19 pandemic because planning guidance on what type of food outlets could provide takeaways was relaxed) - a subject covered earlier this week in the Fuse blog post How Covid-19 changed the takeaway landscape by Callum Bradford from Teesside University.

What we found

We found that compared to other local authorities in the North East, Gateshead’s planning policy reduced the density of fast-food outlets by around 13 per 100,000 people and the proportion of fast-food outlets by around 14%.

Next, we are going to look at if this change in the density and proportion of fast-food outlets has had any impact on childhood overweight and obesity between 2015 to 2019 and if this did anything to reduce inequalities in childhood weight.

If you would like to read our paper in Social Science and Medicine on the impact of Gateshead’s planning policy on the food environment you can find it here.

Tuesday 9 August 2022

How Covid-19 changed the takeaway landscape

Posted by Callum Bradford, Research Associate, Teesside University

During the Covid pandemic, you may have seen the memes for how there are two types of people during lockdown. First there were those who used lockdown as an excuse to exercise more, eat well, and generally take care of themselves in a manner of which they had never had the time for previously. Then there were those who out of sheer boredom, decided to drink and order takeaway on more days than not as it was ‘something to do’.

As you can probably guess, I very much fell into the second category.

To my detriment, takeaways typically sell food which is relatively cheap, high in calories, low in nutritional value, and (annoyingly) very appetising; all delivered to your front door in a matter of minutes. Now I don’t want to come across as anti-takeaway, or anti-business, there is a place in our society for unhealthy food, nor do I blame anyone else for my questionable dietary choices. However, I’m sure most of us agree that we can have too much of a good thing at the impairment of not only our own health, but also the health of the high-street.

Apparently I’m not the only one who is too easily tempted by takeaways, with local governments implementing planning regulations to further prevent this takeover-of-takeaways, in the knowledge that our willpower is often lacking. You’re likely familiar with some of the rules already in place, such as no takeaways within 200m of a school, or that most restaurants and pubs can only provide takeaway food on an ‘ancillary’ basis.

However, with the Covid-19 lockdowns pubs and restaurants lost their ability to trade. In an attempt to combat the potential loss of business, the government introduced new temporary measures allowing these businesses to trade as takeaways, without needing to apply for planning permission. In other words, my options for takeaway just increased threefold, and by ordering-in I was ‘doing my bit’ to keep businesses open.

As we were now stuck indoors, every occasion was now an excuse for a takeaway; Birthday? Takeaway. Passed Uni? Takeaway. Anniversary? Slightly fancier takeaway with cocktails (highly recommend).

With these temporary regulations in mind, we consulted with various planners, public health leads, and environmental health officers from across the North East, to better understand how these regulations were impacting their roles, alongside any public health trepidations they may have (if my diet alone wasn’t enough cause for concern).

The main theme throughout our conversations was an overwhelming sense of uncertainty. Covid had an unprecedented impact on the priorities of local authorities. Because of this, they could not organise the infrastructure needed to identify how many businesses were choosing to trade as takeaways. Even today as we slowly return to a sense of normality, the role of collecting this data appears to be unassigned as authorities play catch-up on work lost to Covid. Therefore, as you can imagine, gauging the impact of these regulations became very challenging and speculative. There was also uncertainty around how and when these regulations would end, or what elected members planned to do (if anything) about the potential long-term consequences to health.

Surprisingly, the main finding from our research had little to do with the regulations themselves, but rather how Covid has accelerated change in the takeaway landscape. During Covid, we all developed new habits (for better or worse); one of which was the use of online delivery services such as Deliveroo and Uber Eats.

Despite the temp Covid regulations now ending, with these delivery services, many businesses that could not originally offer takeaway now can, and local authorities have limited ability to prevent them from doing so since they aren’t technically providing the deliveries themselves. A quick search on Deliveroo in Middlesbrough for example offers me delivery for Burger King, Starbucks, and Creams Cafe. None of these options are well-known as takeaways, but all now provide the delivery of unhealthy food. And although these services were technically available pre-Covid, the pandemic has led to a huge increase in their popularity, allowing for more unhealthy-food options and the changing of shopping habits. There are also traffic implications. Have you ever tried to walk through Liverpool city centre during lunch hour? Attempting to dodge Deliveroo riders on their bikes as you stroll through town is quite the experience.

To summarise, the Covid pandemic had an unparalleled impact on public health professionals, to the extent that the government implementing new regulations regarding takeaways was considered low priority. Ambiguity surrounding the impact of these regulations remains, with the ending of the regulations becoming somewhat nullified given the rise of online delivery.

In conclusion I offer some advice. if you’re trying to eat healthier, writing a blog post on takeaways whilst doing ‘research’ on Deliveroo, might not be the wisest of ideas – speaking from experience.