Calls to tackle the soaring number of fast food outlets in Scotland
The number of fast food outlets has risen by almost a third in nearly every Scottish council area over the past eight years despite a raft of government measures aimed at improving the national diet.
New figures found around 800 new takeaways have opened across the country since 2010. Some areas have seen their fast food provision double in the same period.
Hungry locals in Glasgow now have more than 560 different outlets to choose from, while those in Edinburgh have risen by more than a third to 395.
It means there are now 91 takeaways for every 100,000 people in Scotland’s largest city and more than 3,500 food-to-go outlets operating across the country.
The report comes months after Scottish Government health chiefs announced a crackdown on the promotion of foods high in salt, sugar and fat in a bid to tackle the nation’s obesity epidemic.
Two-thirds of Scottish adults are said to be overweight, including 29 per cent who are defined as obese, according to figures released earlier this year. Campaigners are now calling for local authorities to be given further powers to curb the number of fast food outlets opening in their area.
Public health minister Joe Fitzpatrick said “decisive action” was needed to tackle Scotland’s “damaging relationship with junk food” as he launched a masterplan earlier this month.
Proposals put out for consultation could see restrictions placed on “supersized” soft drinks, free refills, multi-buys and unhealthy food displays at checkouts.
But Tam Fry, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, said local councils needed more powers to deny new outlets the opportunity to “proliferate” in areas where there were already large numbers of unhealthy food options.
He said: “I’m not surprised about the rise – it’s considerable – and the reason for that. Local government and local boards in Scotland find it a pain to deal with fast food outlets and they don’t have all the powers they need to say no to them.
“These are businesses that come into an area, they pay rates, they bring employment and in a lot of cases, they are sourcing local produce.”
He continued: “Added to that, they are cheap, convenient, the food comes hot and cooked and for parts of the population they are a necessity. For low-income families, they provide meals that are filling, but not nutritious.
“I think Holyrood have made good strides in improving school meals for children in that situation, but they still have to go home, they are just getting the same type of fast food there. All that good work is just going out the window.”
Mr Fry added: “We have had years and years of the UK government not wanting to regulate industry and of course industry has just completely taken advantage.”
Many councils say they are forced to open up retail premises to fast food firms in a bid to attract footfall back to struggling high streets.
In July, councillors in the Scottish Borders – where the presence of takeaways has increased by more than 37 per cent since 2010 – voted to ease restrictions on new businesses opening in Hawick and Galashiels town centres as part of a one-year pilot scheme.
An image of a 5,400 calorie ‘crunch box’ containing four different battered suppers, chips, onion rings, fritters and a two litre bottle of Irn-Bru from the East West Spice chippie in Greenock went viral after being posted online in August.
Scottish Conservative health spokesman Miles Briggs said: “The significant increase in takeaways over the last eight years is a worrying trend that suggests to me that SNP Scottish Government public health messages are not being as effective as they could be and that the takeaway food environment in Scotland continues to increase.”
He added: “It is clear that local authorities have an important role to play in the local high street mix available, which often drives consumer behaviour and food choices.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Our diet and healthy weight delivery plan contains a package of measures designed to help Scots make healthy choices about their eating habits and live healthier lives. We will shortly publish research on planning and the food environment – an element of which is about the availability of fast food outlets.
“This will inform our forthcoming review of Scottish planning policy.
“Meanwhile, Food Standards Scotland will soon lead a consultation to inform an out-of-home strategy.
“It will include proposals on calorie information for consumers in settings like takeaways.”