Anthony Lobo, Healthy Food and Business Officer, Southwark Council
Jan 13, 2020
While unhealthy takeaway food isn’t the whole picture when it comes to the causes of child obesity, it certainly has a role to play. Southwark Council has partnered with Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity to use the Mayor’s Healthier Catering Commitment framework to drive local improvements to fast food. We’ll do this using data and insights to target our resources, test our assumptions and learn what really works in our borough.
There are over 1,200 food businesses serving hot prepared food in Southwark. These businesses range from small independently owned outlets to global food giants, competing in a highly fragmented consumer market.
The array of food on offer from these takeaways, cafes and restaurants, represents the diversity within the borough, and is an industry that continues to flourish. The UK takeaway market alone has seen sales increase by 34% since 2009 and is projected to grow by a further 11% by 2021 to £11.1bn, fuelled by online ordering and delivery.
Meals are now regularly consumed out of the home in England, with 27% of children eating at food outlets at least once a week. These meals tend to be associated with higher energy intake; higher levels of fat, saturated fats, sugar, and salt, and lower levels of micronutrients like iron and zinc. As a result, the increasing consumption of out-of-home meals has been identified as an important factor contributing to rising levels of obesity.
At Southwark Council, we think supporting food businesses to prepare healthier food is an important step towards tackling childhood obesity. However, with so many food businesses and limited resources, this is no simple task.
Supported by Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity, a new council programme is testing different ways to work with food businesses to achieve outcomes that are good for business and for consumers. We know from previous work including the Healthy High Streets challenge that when businesses respond to customer trends toward healthier options there’s profit to be gained. This is one project amongst others which focus on different parts of the food system, ultimately aiming to create healthier food environments. In order to identify the priority businesses to approach in this project, we used local business and population data to inform the process, through five targeting steps.
Studies have shown that a preference for takeaway meals is increasing. The average takeaway meal contains 68% of a person’s recommended daily calorie intake, and therefore regular consumption can lead to negative health effects.
Analysis of food businesses by premises type identified 415 independently owned takeaways in Southwark.
Underpinning our work within the Council is a need to understand how different population groups may be more adversely affected than others. For childhood obesity, there is a strong relationship with level of deprivation. Obesity prevalence in the most deprived 10% of children is approximately twice that of the least deprived 10%.
On average, there are more fast food outlets in deprived areas than in more affluent areas. There are 339 applicable food businesses located in the five most deprived areas within Southwark.
The most popular takeaway categories in England, accounting for the majority of all takeaway meals consumed include: pizza, Chinese, Indian, kebabs, fried chicken, fish and chips and burgers.
There are 140 applicable food businesses serving meals from these takeaway categories in Southwark.
Businesses with a 3+ food hygiene rating are more likely to demonstrate satisfactory management processes, training and systems around keeping food safe, to ensure good hygiene is maintained. With successful processes already in place they are in a better position to engage with council initiatives, and there is increased confidence in standards being maintained in the future.
There are 130 applicable food businesses with a 3+ food hygiene rating in Southwark.
Focusing on businesses within a tight geographical cluster means we benefit from the role of competition between companies to spread improvements within the sector. Similar food businesses tend to cluster around one another in areas where there is a high volume of passing trade. Tackling one cluster at a time will help us refine our tactics in the early clusters to create maximum impact in the remainder.
As a result, 33 food businesses across 3 clusters have been identified to initially approach as part of this innovative programme.
We’ll start approaching food businesses early in the new year, and this project will run until at least Summer 2022. We will continue to collect and use data; testing and learning about what works and adapting our approach as we go. We’ll be evaluating impact of the programme using a more in-depth approach than has been done previously across London. This will involve quantifying the impact of each criteria of the Healthier Catering Commitment and measuring which improvements businesses make. We’ll share what we learn in the hope that other councils will benefit from our insights.
15 October, 2020
Sharon Bligh, Healthier Lives Director at The Consumer Goods Forum, shares lessons learnt from our collaboration to test in-store health initiatives.