Councils must be given ‘vital’ powers to close existing fast food joints near schools, or at least reduce sales to school children, according to a report on tackling childhood obesity from the Royal Society for Public Health.
Routing out Childhood Obesity calls for a number of measures, backed by the public surveyed as part of the report, such as fast food exclusion zones around schools, improved facilities in local parks for teens, safe areas for teens to hang out in, and tighter rules on junk food advertising near schools.
Safe walking and cycling routes to, and from, school properly separated from traffic, was called for as part of a boost for funding to promote active travel, which the report said was currently insufficient and dwarfed by spending on other forms of transport.
RSPH chief executive Shirley Cramer said: ‘When the bells ring at the end of the day, a typical school child finds themselves in a situation they would otherwise rarely experience: with time to spare, friends to follow, change in their pocket, no adult direction, and a junk food offer within minutes on foot.
“It’s small wonder that, in this environment, junk food outlets have become one of the most popular after-school destinations.”
Cramer said in order to achieve change ‘we need to be ambitious’ and ‘keep in mind the whole picture’.
An end to discounts and direct marketing to children by fast food outlets was called for. More safe spaces for teens to socialise in are needed according to the report. One pupil interviewed said they spent so much time in a local fried chicken outlet with their friends that the shop even had the school rules posted on its wall. These proposals were backed by the public 80% and 83% respectively.
The RSPH research project, carried out with Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity in London – also highlighted a growing problem of fast food apps being used to deliver junk food to the school gates – and called for an outright ban.
Researchers noted that children perceived unhealthiness as central to the concept of fast food, and had no sense that healthy fast food was possible. “This lack of conceptual space for food that is both healthy and quick to arrive is reflective of the scarcity of such offerings on the high street.”
Other proposals included:
• The Advertising Standards Authority extend the 100m restriction on high fat, sugar and salt food ads around schools, as well as to other areas where children congregate.
• Explore licensing of fast food outlets to reduce after school consumption
• Boost bike storage in schools
• Update traffic sign regulations to allow the building of zebra crossings without beacons, to save money
• Signage on school gates directing children to the nearest green space as they leave school
• Opening up the school grounds in the school holidays
• Councils to set up and extend school streets schemes, banning vehicles except for bikes and opening them up to pedestrians