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Too much cheap unhealthy food and drink and too many fast food shops make it hard for children to be healthy, say Londoners

13th February 2018

Nine out of 10 Londoners (86%) who responded to London’s Great Weight Debate believe tackling London’s childhood obesity epidemic to help children and young people lead healthier lives should be either the top or a high priority for the capital.

More than 2,700 Londoners completed the Great Weight Debate survey which aimed to raise awareness of the levels of childhood obesity in London and gain an understanding about what measures Londoners would support towards legislating for a healthier environment.

Londoners were asked to list the top three things that they thought made it harder for children to live healthy lives in their area, with 60% ticking ‘too many unhealthy food and drink options’, 44% ticking ‘too many fast food shops’ and 33% ticking ‘safety concerns for children (not letting them play outdoors unsupervised)’. Thirty three per cent of respondents ticked ‘too much advertising of unhealthy food and drink’ while 29% ticked ‘the cost of healthy food and drink.”

Cheaper healthy food and drink, support for families to cook healthier food, limits on the number of fast food shops and less marketing and advertising of high fat and sugary food and drink were the top four factors that Londoners felt would support children in the capital to lead healthier lives.

Londoners named parks, leisure facilities, sport and youth clubs and cycle lanes as the top four things that already existed in their area that they thought encouraged a healthy lifestyle for their children.

The Great Weight Debate findings have helped London partners plan the next steps to tackle childhood obesity, including a policy in the Mayor of London’s draft London Plan to prevent new hot food takeaways from opening within 400 metres of a school, and the setting up of the Mayor’s new Child Obesity Taskforce in collaboration with Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity. The Mayor’s new taskforce will launch in May and he will be asking the board to focus on addressing the issues that Londoners raised in the Great Weight Debate and through his consultation on London’s new Health Inequalities Strategy.

The findings fed into the devolution deal for London announced in November, which gives London more opportunities to work with national partners to make changes that will support young people to lead healthier lives.  The findings are also being used to inform every London borough’s childhood obesity strategy, while Healthy London Partnership is working with businesses and communities on three high streets to pilot their ideas for changes that will make it easier for children and families to make healthier food and drink choices.

Jemma Gilbert, Director of Prevention at Healthy London Partnership which coordinated the Great Weight Debate said:

“Londoners have told us in no uncertain terms that childhood obesity is a major concern for them and that they want to see changes that will help children and young people in London lead healthier lives.

“We recognise their concerns especially with regards to the abundance of fast food shops, the difficulties and costs of finding healthy food and the advertising of high fat and sugary food and drink.

“I want to thank all Londoners who took part in the Great Weight Debate. We know that there isn’t just one silver bullet to tackling childhood obesity and the views of Londoners who took part in the Great Weight Debate are now being used to inform the many next steps London is taking to help make it easier for our children and young people to lead healthier lives.”

London has more seriously overweight children than New York, Sydney, Paris or Madrid. More than a third are overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school. Our 11 to 18 year olds consume three times more than the recommended amount of sugar every day.

Healthy London Partnership, Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity, Battersea Power Station Foundation and the Hyde Group have launched the Healthy High Streets Challenge in Haringey, Southwark and Lambeth.

Fast food shops, businesses, residents and community groups around three high streets in the boroughs were invited to submit their ideas on what changes they think will help make it easier for children and families to make healthier choices. Healthy London Partnership is now working with those who came up with the best ideas so they can be piloted for two months on the high streets in 2018.

Ms Gilbert said the challenge was being run with support from Haringey, Southwark and Lambeth councils: “We need to change the face of London high streets and we know this is best done with the businesses who know their customers best and the families, community groups and residents who know their high streets best.

“We’ll be piloting the winning ideas from the Healthy High Streets Challenge, which include young volunteers working with local food cafes to develop affordably priced, healthy children and young people’s menus, a chicken shop business creating and launching a healthy children’s menu, communal lunches at a tenants hall and cooking classes for parents and carers.”

The devolution deal will enable London to make sure that money raised through the sugar levy is able to support action to help children in London schools be more physically active, building on and complementing efforts already underway. London will also be exploring how advertising restrictions can support young Londoners to make healthier food and drink choices, as well as options to further restrict the advertising and marketing of unhealthy food and drinks in specific locations.

Yvonne Doyle, Regional Director for Public Health England London, said:

“The Great Weight Debate provided a real opportunity to speak with Londoners and experts and hear their views and recommendations on reducing levels of childhood obesity.

“Childhood obesity is currently a priority for over half of London Health and Wellbeing Boards and the Great Weight Debate findings are informing the action plans that all London councils have to reduce childhood obesity.

“London is working together at a borough and London level to start turning the tide on childhood obesity and part of this will involve looking at what is already having an impact in parts on London that could be extended across the capital.”

Danny Ruta, London obesity lead for the Association of Directors of Public Health and Director of Public Health at the London Borough of Lewisham said:

“It was fantastic to see so many Londoners get involved in the Great Weight Debate, which included a panel event for 120 Londoners, eight roadshows across London and numerous events organised by councils and a hackathon for London teenagers.

“The extensive engagement confirms that tackling childhood obesity clearly resonates with residents in all London boroughs and that they want to see it tackled in many different ways that require action at both a local and regional level.

“All the evidence suggests that taking a ‘whole system approach’, and doing lots of different things all at the same time, could reverse this epidemic and it’s exciting to see this work taking shape in London.

“We’ve also gained a better understanding of what residents believe is helping children in their boroughs to stay healthy – such as parks, leisure facilities, cycle lanes, and sports and youth clubs – and we now need to make sure all Londoners have access to these types of facilities.”

Download the Great Weight Debate findings

The Healthy High Streets Challenge is being run on West Green Road and High Road in Haringey, Clapham Road in Lambeth and Walworth Road and East Street in Southwark.

Find out more about the Healthy High Streets Challenge

The Mayor’s draft London Plan can be found at People and organisations can respond to the consultation by email to All comments must be received by 5pm on Friday 2 March 2018.


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