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December 13, 2023
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Normalising harmful food

ADPH President, Greg Fell and Policy Lead for Healthy Places, Matt Ashton have written to The Times following their investigation into KFC thwarting efforts to stop fast-food outlets near schools. An edited version of the following letter was published on Wednesday 13th December, 2023.

Dear Sir,

Your investigation into KFC thwarting efforts to stop fast-food outlets near schools has shone a light on the normalisation of a food environment that contributes to harm – an ongoing problem for public health teams, who have a duty to protect residents from harm.

As your article states, over a third of Y6 children are overweight or living with obesity. It is undoubtedly a complex issue with many contributary factors. However, it is clear that poor diet is one such factor and it is well evidenced a diet high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) is linked to diabetes, cancer and a range of other illnesses.

It is also well evidenced that exposure to advertising and marketing of HFSS increases consumption and so it follows that those areas with a higher density of fast-food outlets will produce an obesogenic environment which leads people to an increased risk of harm.

Sadly, the situation is made worse by financial pressures, with HFSS food significantly cheaper than healthier alternatives. This means that the already unacceptable gap in health outcomes for people living in more deprived areas is widening – an issue further compounded by the fact that there are more take away outlets found in these less affluent areas.

In order to tackle the issue at its root, and prevent future generations being swept into the vicious cycle of poorer health leading to poorer outcomes leading to fewer opportunities and poorer health for their children, we have to give people the freedom to choose from a wider range of equally affordable options.

This isn’t about individual people’s choices – the fact is that people living in these areas are more exposed to unhealthy choices which necessarily means they have much less choice than people living in more affluent areas.

One, very effective, way of enabling people to have more choice is to use planning and licensing legislation to reduce the visibility and prevalence of fast food. It isn’t a stand-alone solution of course, but it is a powerful one that has seen real results in areas which have been able to introduce these freedoms.

We know the issue; we know how to address it and we also know that public support is strong for resetting the balance on obesogenic environments. Central Government must support local authorities to say no to new outlets in areas which are already saturated with exposure to unhealthy options which cost society far more in lost productivity and health and social care than they can ever possibly contribute to our economy.


Greg Fell, President of the Association of Directors of Public Health

Prof. Matt Ashton, Policy Lead for Healthy Places for the Association of Directors of Public Health

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