Author Mark Richards

There has been an explosion in the number of takeaways and fast food outlets – but they are contributing to the ever-worsening diabetes epidemic. Ultimately the nation may pay a high price for its love of takeaways.

‘Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dine like a pauper.’ That was the advice your Grandma gave you and now a new study has confirmed that if you want to lose weight, that is the way you should eat.

But how many of us have time to rustle up a full English every morning before we go to work? Exactly: the time when we can eat – and when we can relax over our food – is in the evening. So on goes the weight – especially when this conversation is played out in so many homes up and down the country…

‘I’m too tired to cook.’

‘Yeah. Me too.’

‘Shall I order a takeaway?’

‘Yeah. What do you fancy…’

So the menus are consulted, the order is placed and 10 or 15 minutes later the delivery driver is knocking on the door. And on go even more pounds…

The takeaway food business in the UK is booming – the total number of takeaway shops has risen by 4,000 over the past three years. And if that is not enough proof, food delivery company Deliveroo has just moved into swanky new offices, nestled among London’s bankers and lawyers. Clearly their investors see a big future for food delivery – the offices have been funded with some of the £364m recently raised in a funding round.

Sadly the words ‘big future’ may also apply to many of us – because the boom in the takeaway business is going to have a serious impact not just on waistlines but on the nation’s health, with the most deprived areas of the country paying the heaviest price.

The boom in takeaways

According to new figures from Cambridge University’s Centre for Diet and Activity Research (Cedar) there are now 56,638 takeaways in England – more than a quarter of all the food outlets in the country, with some of the main concentrations being found in the poorest and most deprived areas.

“The junk food and sugary drinks sold by these outlets make an important contribution to the UK epidemic of obesity and diabetes,”

said Professor Simon Capewell, adding that the concentration of fast-food outlets in poorer areas was making inequalities in health progressively worse.

An example quoted with Blackburn-with-Darwen in the North West, where fast-food shops account for 38% of all the food outlets. Blackburn has 236 takeaways, an increase of 24% since 2014 and equivalent to one takeaway for every 625 people in the area.

Why is this bad news?

We have written previously about the obesity epidemic in the UK and the simply staggering fact that the NHS spends £25,000 a minute treating diabetes and its complications. Diabetes also costs UK industry £8.4bn a year in absenteeism and £6.9bn a year in early retirements – and yet the overwhelming majority of this is Type 2 diabetes, which is largely caused by being overweight.

Since 1996, the number of people diagnosed with diabetes in the UK has risen from 1.4m to 3.5m. Taking into account the undiagnosed cases Diabetes UK estimates that the number of people living with the disease is over 4m – and forecasts that it will rise to 5m by 2025.

With researchers having shown a clear link between increased exposure/proximity to fast food outlets and greater risks of obesity as people consume more high-fat, nutrient-poor meals the growth in the number of fast-food outlets represents a clear threat to the nation’s health and its finances. It may be great news for Deliveroo and its investors: it is very bad news for the Chancellor and the taxpayer.

Are takeaways taking away our health?

It’s also bad news for the poorer areas of the country with Cedar’s new Feat (Food Environment Assessment Tool – these food researchers love their acronyms…) showing a clear concentration of fast-food outlets in the North of England and in more-deprived areas. But worryingly there are also signs of a fast-food explosion in areas that were previously thought of as being more affluent. South Cambridgeshire, for example – which has serious pockets of deprivation – has seen the biggest proportionate increase in takeaways in the country.

Can anything be done about it?

According to Public Health England, nearly two-thirds of adults and a third of children aged 2 to 15 are obese or overweight, with obesity causing more than 30,000 deaths a year. But

“Despite the health impact of the obesity epidemic being well known, it is shocking that the number of fast food takeaways is increasing,”

said Caroline Cerny of the Obesity Health Alliance.

So can anything be done about it? Local authorities do have the power to restrict takeaways and since 2010 more than 20 councils in England have introduced planning regulations aimed at limiting the spread of takeaways – including the imposition of a 400-metre exclusion zone around schools. But 400m is only a five-minute walk – and, sadly, local councils need money. “Many councils might wish to exercise control on health grounds,” said Professor Capewell, “But they are constrained by budget cuts. Councils need to maximise income from business rates – and that includes businesses that sell unhealthy commodities.”

Just what is a takeaway?

But even if takeaways were controlled, would that stop the spread of unhealthy food, takeaways and ‘ready meals?’ We have all been eating in a restaurant when someone just ‘pops in for a takeaway.’ We all buy food from the supermarket that needs ‘six minutes in the microwave.’ Takeaways are defined as outlets where hot food is ordered and paid for but there is no eat-in or waiter service. It includes bakeries, such as Greggs, plus the obvious brands like KFC and McDonald’s – but add in the microwave and even your local M&S becomes a takeaway.

Fast food is just too convenient. While we might have time to eat in the evening, we do not seem to have the time or the energy to cook – and domestic science lessons are not going to make a return to the school curriculum.