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Designing healthier catering interventions for takeaways in deprived areas

Susan Bagwell BSc MSc Dip Applied Social Research; Research Development Manager, Cities Institute (www.citiesinstitute.org)

Cities Institute, London Metropolitan University, 166–220 Holloway Road, London N7 8HN

Correspondence: Susan Bagwell, Research Development Manager, Cities Institute, Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, London Metropolitan University, 166–220 Holloway Road, London N7 8HN. Email: s.bagwell@londonmet.ac.uk  


The increasing consumption of fast food has been identified as one of the key contributory factors to rising levels of obesity. To try to improve the healthiness of local food environments, many local authorities have developed initiatives designed to encourage takeaways and other out-of-home food businesses to adopt healthier menus and catering practices. However, few of these initiatives are reaching the least healthy takeaways in the most deprived areas.

The object of this paper is to highlight the type of interventions that do work with fast-food businesses operating in such contexts. It draws on a UK-wide survey of local authorities operating healthier catering initiatives, and interviews with 30 takeaways that have adopted healthier changes.

The results suggest that healthier catering interventions need to be designed to take account of the barriers businesses face, in particular, the highly competitive nature of the market place in deprived areas. Targeted approaches involving intensive outreach work focusing on a few key manageable changes tend to be more effective in encouraging business participation than generic schemes with more onerous criteria.

Successful engagement strategies focus on the economic benefits of adopting healthier practices. Takeaways need to be supported in developing a healthier catering marketing mix appropriate to the business and the local context in which it operates. However, a ‘whole systems’ approach to tackling obesity, involving work with suppliers and consumers, together with government intervention, is needed, if more significant health benefits are to be achieved.

Key words:healthier catering schemes, fast-food takeaways, public health, deprived areas, regulation, ‘nudge’ 

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