It probably doesn’t come as a surprise to learn that a single meal in a fast food restaurant can add up a full day’s calorie requirements for an adult.

As Dr Deborah Pufal, course leader for the undergraduate nutrition degree programmes at Huddersfield university, says: “We all know fast food is high in calories, salt and fat. You can get your daily energy in one meal. The nutritional information is there if you choose to read it, or understand it; the problem in this country is that we are all aware we have got this obesity problem, but how many people change their behaviour as a result?”

She is not alone in believing that fast food and takeaways are major players in the obesity epidemic.

But those who campaign for healthier diets are waging war against a formidable enemy – the ever-growing numbers of fast-food outlets and takeaways springing up in our towns and cities.

Dr Deborah Pufal course leader for nutrition and health at the University of Huddersfield.

Figures issued earlier this year show that in 2015 Kirklees had just over 300 such businesses in the area, an increase of almost 100% from 2010. That means in 2015 there were 7.2 takeaways per 10,000 people. Nationally, it is estimated that there are around 6.5 per 10,000, which makes Kirklees well ahead of the national trend. In the country as a whole the number of fast food establishments within five minutes of a school has almost doubled in the last seven years.

But what does this mean for the health of the borough? According to the Local Government Association the highest densities of takeaways are in areas of highest deprivation and people living in these areas are 80% more likely to be obese and 20% more likely to have a higher Body Mass Index than those in areas with the lowest number of fast food outlets. As obesity expert Dr Chinnadorai Rajeswaran, a consultant in the Mid Yorkshire NHS Trust, points out: “There has been a lot of research into this. Living within a tenth of a mile of a fast food restaurant raises your chances of being obese by 5%. Distance matters, as do the numbers of fast food takeaways.”

And, as he explains, fast food has an almost ‘addictive’ quality that means consumers will choose unhealthy options. He added: “The food is relatively cheap and may be made from cheap ingredients, but it is high in fat and salt and that makes people crave more. Fast food companies try to bring in healthier food but people don’t prefer it, no-one goes for it – they prefer the burgers and high fat food.”

Chinese noodle takeaway

In its proposed new Local Plan, Kirklees Council has a policy that, if adopted, will limit the numbers of hot food establishments in any one area. As the policy document says: ‘Such uses (for fast food outlets), in general, can be a contributing factor to obesity and wider health issues for Kirklees residents, including risks of developing chronic heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.

‘There is no single solution to the issue of an unhealthy lifestyle or obesity as there are many contributory factors. However, the planning process can influence choices over food, diet and lifestyles choices when considering new proposals for such uses.’

Figures from Public Health England reveal that nearly two thirds of adults, one tenth of reception year children and one in five Year Six children are overweight or obese.

“The difference between reception children and Year 6 children in such a short time is quite shocking,” says Dr Pufal, who believes the most effective way to tackle obesity is to educate children about nutrition from an early age. She added: “When I was at school we had cookery lessons and then by the time my children went to school it was food technology and they didn’t really do much cooking. Since 2014 we’ve had a new curriculum so we’ll have to see what effect that has.”

McDonald's Big Mac meal

Dr Pufal also feels that the school meals service – subject to a lot of change in recent years – has itself hindered the promotion of healthy food and led to children relying on fast food premises nearby.

She explained: “The introduction of cash cafeterias meant that schools had to provide what sold, which was chips and burgers, then they took that away and now we have got new nutrition based standards for school meals. But it has been a big change for some children.”

Figures for obesity-related hospital admissions in Kirklees have risen by more than a half in a year

One of the biggest challenges facing health promotion teams is how to persuade us to cut back on our pizzas, pasties, curries and Chinese takeaways. Most takeaway food is high in fat, and fatty foods are comforting. Even the ‘healthier’ salad options in fast food establishments often come with calorie-laden dressings and fatty additions such as croutons. “Fat is palatable and has a pleasing mouth feel,” says Dr Pufal. “You can easily overeat fatty food. From an evolutionary point of view this is good because you get to consume a lot of calories.

Fish and Chips
Fish and Chips

“Getting people to change their behaviour is a big problem in my job. People see making healthy food as time consuming and difficult.”

What’s more, providing healthy, home-cooked food is not seen as a priority. Fast-paced lifestyles, working families and the easy availability of fast food are all contributing to the problem - although supermarket takeaway food is generally a healthier option. “It seems much easier to just order a pizza at the end of the day when you’ve been out at work,” says Dr Pufal, “but it isn’t difficult to get a bag of pasta that costs about 30p and do something with it. You’ve just got to know what you’re doing and a lot of people don’t.”

And it’s no good seeking help from the celebrity chefs on television. As she points out, many use copious amounts of butter, cream, cheese, salt and sugar in their cooking, and cookery books promising quick meals rarely deliver what they say on the cover. But with easy internet access there are plenty of other ways to get recipes for quick, tasty, healthy meals.

This woman's amazing weight loss has given her new hopes of having a baby

However, restricting the numbers of takeaways could be a good start to reducing obesity levels and improving public health. Although, as Dr Rajeswaran says, this is a long-term strategy and the effects wouldn’t be felt for several years.

In the meantime, it’s a problem that is costing the nation dear. It has been calculated By Public Health England that obesity and its related health issues costs the UK around £47b a year. To put this in perspective, for 2015/16, the overall NHS budget was around £116.4 billion.

How long can we go on feeding our fast food habits?

Daily recommended nutritional allowances for an adult (Public Health England)

Energy: 2,000 kcal

Total fat: 70g

Saturates: 20g

Carbohydrate: 260g

Total sugars: 90g

Protein: 50g

Salt: 6g

Fast foods at a glance

Kentucky Fried Chicken thigh - 285 calories, 20g fat and 1 g of salt.

Large popcorn chicken - 465 calories, 25.9 g fat and 2.6g salt.

McDonald’s Bacon Clubhouse burger – 740 calories, 42g fat, 1.4g salt

Chocolate McCafe Shake, small – 540 calories, 16g fat

Domino’s Large Vegi Supreme with Delight cheese pizza – 126 calories per large slice (10 slices per pizza), 5.6 of fat

Domino’s Large BBQ Stuffed Crust – 251 calories per large slice (10 slices per pizza), 9.8 g fat

Curries – these obviously vary but the consumer group Which? found around 685 calories in an average portion of chicken tikka masala (without rice).

Researchers also discovered that some Chinese takeaway dishes contained nearly two-thirds of the recommended daily allowance of sugar.