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Fast Food: The Big Fat Truth - Tonight

Fast Food: The Big Fat Truth is on ITV at 7.30pm Photo: ITV / Tonight

Tonight has obtained exclusive new figures that show there’s been a dramatic rise in fast food outlets across the country. The number of fast food takeaways on our streets has risen by nearly 10% in the last three years. There are now over 57,000 fast food takeaways in England, and if this trend continues there will be over 73,000 in just ten years.

Data showing the distribution of fast food takeaways across the country also points towards a strong link between deprived areas having a higher concentration of fast food takeaways. Tonight asks whether rising numbers of fast food outlets could be making already high levels of poor health and obesity worse.

For millions of people, cheap fast food is a lifeline. We meet Karen Harper from Croxteth, Liverpool. When Karen split with her partner in 2007, she had no job, bills to pay and three hungry children to feed. When money for gas and electricity was running out, takeaways were a quick and easy way to ensure her children were fed.

Dr Martin Caraher Credit: ITV / Tonight

For people on low incomes, the balance between heating food and heating their house is often a very thin line.

– Dr Martin Caraher, Professor of Food and Health Policy

Public Health England want to set targets to reduce the amount of calories in ready meals and takeaways.

Alison Tedstone Credit: ITV / Tonight

We know that most takeaways, places you buy food on the go do not have calorie information at the point at which you make your food choices. Public Health England would really like to see calorie labelling embraced by this sector of the food industry.

– Alison Tedstone, Chief Nutritionist at Public Health England

Ranvir Singh visits Blackburn, one of the most takeaway saturated areas of the country, to see whether calorie labelling really could make a difference.

IBY’S fast food takeaway is located on Bank Top in Blackburn, where nearby competitors offer a burger for £1, and kebab meals for £2. Tonight took ten of IBY’S most popular meals to a lab, to find out exactly how many calories each contained. The results revealed how much a customer’s fast food meal choice can affect their calorie intake.

The special burger and chips came in at 1548 calories, and the donner kebab wasn’t far behind at 1318 calories. But healthier alternatives could be found in the chicken wrap, at 347 calories, and the chicken kebab at 590 calories. In our programme, Ranvir reveals the calorie labelled menu to staff and customers, to see if it could be a success.

Watch The Big Fat Truth to see the calorie counts revealed. Credit: ITV / Tonight

Councils have a responsibility to improve public health and do have the power to introduce a range additional planning policies that specifically target the spread of fast food outlets. Across the country these have included measures to reduce clustering along our streets and takeaway exclusion zones around schools.

Tonight carried out a Freedom of Information request to discover how many local authorities are adopting planning policies to control new fast food outlets. Out of the 209 councils that responded to our FOI, 104 say they have, or are in the process of tightening up policies on takeaways. 105 say to date that they haven’t - or are not planning to do so.

Alongside planning policy, some local authorities also have schemes that involve working with local fast food takeaways, to try to make their food healthier. But council budgets are under pressure, and these types of schemes may be facing cuts. At a national level, Public Health budgets have faced a £531 million pound reduction.

Useful Links:

How many fast food outlets are in your area? The Food Environment Assessment Tool has been developed by CEDAR and the MRC Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge. It allows for detailed exploration of the geography of food retail access across England.

How many calories should you be consuming? NHS Understanding Calories article

What is happening to public health across the country? The King’s Fund on Public Health

  • Fast Food: The Big Fat Truth will be broadcast on ITV at 7.30pm on Thursday 2nd November

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