Councils can have a positive impact on people’s diet by using planning laws to reduce the number of fast food takeaways, say health watchdogs.
Across Yorkshire and the Humber local authorities are being urged to follow the example set by one council, Hull, which, as part of its Local Plan, introduced new rules preventing takeaways opening within 400 metres of schools.
The distance is said to be based on research on how far children tend to walk from school to buy lunch.
New data released by Public Health England (PHE), which has developed stronger planning guidance to support areas aiming to restrict takeaway growth, shows the number of fast food outlets across the country is soaring.
It categorises “fast food” as “energy dense food that is available quickly.” Its analysis covers covers a range of outlets that including burger bars, kebab and chicken shops, chip shops and pizza outlets as well as sandwich shops and “eight major chains.”
It adds that “most fast food outlets are independent companies with only one or two outlets.”
In Kirklees takeaway businesses have quadrupled since 2010, jumping from 155 to 624.
As the issue of childhood obesity grows - more than a third of children are overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school and the figure is even higher in some deprived areas - PHE believes local authorities have an obligation to create what it calls “healthier environments.”
Corinne Harvey from Public Health England in Yorkshire and The Humber described some neighbourhoods as being “saturated” with fast food outlets making it difficult for some children to resist the lure.
She said: “Local authorities have the power to help shape our environment and support people in making healthier choices and it’s great to see councils in our area taking action.”
According to PHE statistics Kirklees is ranked fourth in a list of 21 authorities across Yorkshire and the Humber. Leeds comes top with 957 fast food outlets followed by Bradford (757) and Sheffield (685). Kirklees has twice as many outlets as its near neighbour Calderdale, which is ranked 11th with 287.
A spokesman for Kirklees Council said the authority continues to input into planning policy as part of its Local Plan while the Food Initiatives Nutrition Education (FINE) team in Environmental Health has been working with takeaway owners since January 2014 to create healthy food by running free masterclasses for local businesses.
He added: “The council and our partners in the NHS and community sector recognise that obesity is a very serious social problem. A third of year 6 children and two thirds of adults are overweight or obese, increasing the risk of diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.
“We have lots of initiatives in Kirklees, including walking groups, slimming and the programmes with our professional sports clubs.
“These are all intended to encourage people to eat a healthy diet and be more physically active as this is the only sustainable way to achieve a healthy weight in the long term.”