Monday 19 November 2012

The attack on takeaway food is about snobbery not health


With a cry I turned off the radio. I could take no more of the Labour leader from Waltham Forest Council celebrating preventing new businesses, new jobs and more choice for the residents of his borough. And all in the cause of health.

Maybe I'm over-reacting but this 'demonising' of the takeaway - blaming it for fat kids, poor schools and litter - is getting too much. For sure, there are places where converting shops to takeaways isn't right - where there's no parking, or adjacent properties that will be adversely affect by smells for example - but this campaign isn't about those issues, it's about judging the choices of others.

Now the London Food Board in partnership with the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health has issued a set of rules that planning authorities can use to stop all new hot food takeways. This is what the Councillor from Waltham Forest was crowing about - the prevention of business and job creation on the wholly unevidenced and spurious basis that takeaways make kids fat and unhealthy.

Here's the justification from the fussbuckets who authored the "Takeaways Toolkit" - after they'd admitted that takeaways employ local people and provide a valuable economic and community function:

However, as the modern world begins to wake up to the threat of a growing obesity epidemic more and more people have been turning their attention to the impact this food has on the health of the population.

Firstly, let's say it again - there is no "growing obesity epidemic" - rates of childhood obesity have stabilised and, on some measures, are falling. So we're building a scary straw man to beat up rather than addressing a real problem.

And secondly there is precisely zero evidence that fast food contributes to childhood obesity. Indeed there is evidence that suggests the very opposite is true:

When the researchers weighed these children they found something rather interesting. Here are the average body mass index (BMI) figures for each group by frequency of visits to fast food outlets. Bear in mind that a 'healthy weight is 18.5 to 25:

Weekly visits        BMI

Every day:            17.8

4-6 times:              18.3

2-3 times:              19.6

Once:                    20.3

Less than once:     21.4

Now is that clear enough for you? Essentially these findings show that the less often you visit a fast food outlet, the more like you are to be overweight.

And this isn't an isolated discovery either:

...there was no significant association between increasing takeaway and fast food consumption and obesity as measured by BMI corrected for age and gender. This is not a new finding. For example, French and colleagues found no significant relationship between frequent consumption of fast food and being overweight in their analysis of a cohort of 11-18-year-old boys and girls. Similarly, Simmons et al found no correlation between increasing takeaway consumption and obesity measured by either BMI or waist circumference.

Put simply, fast food is not the cause of that "obesity epidemic" (if there is one which there isn't). It's just that it's down-market finger food that's eaten by spotty kids in baseball caps - the Guardian and Daily Mail reading classes don't like fast food because it the sort of thing that "common" people eat.

This attack on the takeaway is about snobbery not health - us foodies peering down our noses at those working class people who don't know about "proper" food.



Curmudgeon said...

One amusing thing about takeaways is how locals complaining about the establishment of one in their area so often complain that it will be used by "people from outside the area".

bharat patel said...

Not to mention the fact that it isn't just burgers and kebabs that are served at takeaways. I frequent vegetarian Indian restaurants and I'm not minded to have the food I've grown up eating, and love to introduce to my non-Indian friends, needlessly restricted.

Jonathan Bagley said...

McDonalds main meals tend to be high in protein and you won't get fat eating them. Any obesity will come from the sugary deserts and drinks.
I was thinking about this subject last night. In yesterday's Times2 an article about homemade deep fried chicken implied that KFC and even Nandos serve poor and unhealthy food. I've not visited a Nandos and haven't been in a McDonalds for years, but have read how popular the meals are with Premiership footballers and Olympic athletes.
A couple of weeks ago, Jessica Ennis recounted driving to her local fish and chip shop then, on seeing a huge image of herself on a poster nearby, thought better of being seen buying the highly nutritious but controversial product and continued on to Sainsbury - presumably hiding her high salt and fat chicken korma ready meal under a tub of cottage cheese and a bag of spinach.

handymanphil said...

I think the most amusing is yet to come! And that will be the day that they realise that people have lost the will to start up their own businesses and they are happy to sit on the dole as that is all modern day rules, regulations and idiotic laws leave people totally opposed to working for a living. Needless to say, the whole sorry 'do-gooder' downfall started 1st July, 2007!

Anonymous said...

Only a left-winger would straight-facedly propound the idea that inner-city kids are crying out to eat fennel salad, roasted capsicums stuffed with pine nuts and guava creme fraiche, but with nowhere to buy them they're being forced to slowly kill themselves with fried chicken.