Thursday, 15 March 2018

Fast food shop bans - public policy as virtue signalling

Banning new hot food takeaways is a favourite policy of local councils these days. It's driven by a thing they call "wider determinants of health" (tip to aspiring nannying fussbuckets - this phrase should trip from your tongue nearly as often as "cost to the NHS") and, as I was told by Bradford Council's leader in January, the policy is self-evidently "common sense". I'm guess that this is another example of the words 'common sense' simply meaning 'not based in any way on actual evidence' - all I'd done is ask how the council intended to measure the effect of its policy on levels of child obesity (given this was the validation for its introduction). As there is no evidence and no means of measuring the impact of the policy, shouting 'it's common sense' is the only remaining fall back position.

And the evidence? Seems there ain't none:
The evidence that fast food availability causes obesity among children is even weaker. Of the 39 studies that looked specifically at children, only six (15%) found a positive association while twenty-six (67%) found no effect. Seven (18%) produced mixed results. Of the studies that found no association, five (13%) found an inverse relationship between fast food outlets and childhood obesity. Two-thirds of the studies found no evidence for the hypothesis that living near fast food outlets increases the risk of childhood obesity and there are nearly as many studies suggesting that it reduces childhood obesity as there are suggesting the opposite.
And I'm guessing that, since most of these studies merely assess correlation, anyone looking at these findings would have to conclude that the evidence doesn't support the contention that the availability of fast food doesn't relate in any way to levels of obesity in children (or indeed grown ups). All we get is a protected environment for existing fast food businesses and the active prevention of new businesses in this market. In the end we have a smaller economy and just as many fat kids. Evidence-based public policy? What we have is just public policy as virtue signalling.



Curmudgeon said...

Added to which, many takeaways only open in the evenings anyway, so the proximity of schools is irrelevant except insofar as children may live nearby.

Anonymous said...

Look on the bright side, it creates more opportunities for betting shops, then the locals will be so poor they can't afford to eat, thus the alleged obesity problem is solved. Sorted.