Well, the new school term is nearly over. Perhaps it’s because Harrison is so much more independent now, but one thing which has really struck me since the kids went back is just how many secondary school pupils you see tucking into junk food either before or after the school day. You quite often spot crowds of them gathered on street corners around four o’clock, clutching Subway wrappers, KFC buckets, McDonald’s meals and even fish and chips, or simply dipping into giant sharing bags of crisps and sweets. I’ve often wondered whether their parents know, and whether these are snacks or – the main meal they can expect that day. Either way, the fact that such unhealthy food is so easily available and so cheap to buy is alarming.
I know you can’t clip kids’ wings and I wouldn’t want to, but once they’re at secondary school and make their own way there and back without supervision, it’s very hard for any parent to stop them from eating what they like, when they like, even if their mums and dads know and disapprove of it. For all their parents know, their kids could be using the bus fare they’ve been given to fill up on the high-calorie, high sugar drinks and snacks which are so easy to get hold of after a long school day.
Is it my Imagination?
Seeing so many children bingeing on junk food after school prompted me to look into the takeaway industry a little further. At first I thought it was just my imagination, but there certainly seemed to be more takeaway shops and fast food outlets around than ever before – they’ve always been there, of course, but every shop which shut down in our neighbourhood seemed to be replaced with a takeaway place.
Then an article in The Guardian last month caught my eye. According to the report, new data released by Cambridge University in September showed that the number of fast food outlets in England had jumped by 4,000 since 2014 – that’s an 8% increase in just three years and takes the total to 56,638, or a quarter of all food outlets.
The statistics are simply incredible, with 326 local councils recording increases of at least 20% in the number of takeaway shops in their area. Some of the worst places for takeaway outlets were in the most deprived parts of the country, those places where there are already issues with rapidly escalating obesity levels and poor diet – it almost looks criminal, that so many outlets are given the go-ahead when the damage they can cause has already been proven.
The Price of Obesity
Public Health England estimates that almost two thirds (63%) of adults in the UK are obese and a third of children aged between two and 15. With high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes both linked to being overweight, around 30,000 deaths a year are attributed to the multitude of health problems brought on by obesity, and the NHS spends around £6 billion a year treating the condition.
Surveys have already shown that people often greatly underestimate the number of calories that are in a fast food meal. A single portion of pizza or fried chicken and chips could contain 1,200 calories or more, meaning you could put away over half your recommended daily intake in just a few bites. Grab bags of crisps and sweets are incredibly addictive, cleverly styled as nothing more than an ‘afternoon snack’ when they might contain almost as many calories as a small meal.
Could we be Doing More?
I suddenly found myself noticing as though for the first time the huge number of takeaway venues I passed on the way to Harrison’s school, and I quickly found I’d run out of fingers. We enjoy the odd takeaway now and then, but seeing the kids in school uniform gathering outside these places after school really has left me feeling both saddened and angry with the state of our High Streets.
Planning permission is too easily granted to new takeaway outlets, and all too often they spring up very close to our school gates where they’re right in our children’s eye lines. If the country is going to get serious about tackling childhood obesity, it’s clear that we need to start looking very closely at how we license these places and where we allow them to be built, otherwise our kids will just keep on tucking into the bad stuff when we have our backs turned…