Fast food estate: Solution misses the point

July 23, 2018

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I can get mad about a lot of things, and I don't often feel compelled to write about them. But something in this week's Milton Keynes Citizen has got me facepalming.

Councillor for Woughton and Fishermead, Shammi Akter, has called for no further licences for fast food shops or vans to be issued in Netherfield in a bid to tackle the health problems on the estate such as a shorter life expectancy and obesity. She says fast food outlets do not help low income households to access a healthier diet.

While councillor Akter should be commended for her concern, to me this looks like a superficial and knee-jerk solution to a complicated problem. Her solution completely ignores the actual underlying causes of lower life expectancy on one of Milton Keynes' most deprived estates: poverty and social inequality.

Netherfield seems, from what I can see, to have little access to major discount supermarkets such as Lidl and Aldi, both of which are the other side and end of central Milton Keynes and not easily accessible without a form of transport.

Yes, there are convenience stores nearby, but prices in convenience stores as a rule tend to be higher, making it expensive for someone who may be on a low income to afford to purchase fresh food.

And it's getting worse. The price gap between fruit and vegetables and fast food is increasing by 10p per 1,000 calories each year according to a finding by the Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR) at Cambridge University mentioned in an article in The Economist in May.

Chuck in there the rising costs of heating food and you create a situation where perhaps the cheaper solution is to visit the local takeaway where you know you'll be able to buy enough of a meal to fill you up for the money you pay.

Making takeaway food less accessible without making it easier and cheaper to access fresh food for those who want it will just lead to people having even less access to food than they have already. Stigmatising people for their weight and food choices won't help either. It will just turn off the people you are trying to assist.

I understand that councillors are in the unenviable position of needing to be seen to be doing something and, on face value, stopping the proliferation of takeaways on poorer estates seems like an easy win. But it could just make the situation worse.

Sir Michael Marmot, head of University College London's Institute of Health Equity said in the above Economist article: "If you want to solve the obesity problem, you have to solve the inequality problem first."

That has got to be the key to improving the health outcomes for people in Netherfield.

FoodIssues, obesity, poverty, rant


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