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“Tasty, filling and affordable” is key to tackling London’s childhood obesity crisis

23rd October 2018

The Healthy High Streets Challenge finds that supporting local business to offer food options that are not just healthy but also cheap and tasty is the key to making London’s fast food outlets healthier for children and young people.

Healthy London Partnership (HLP) has been working with fast food shops, business owners, charities and young people to test new ideas for making high streets in Haringey, Lambeth and Southwark healthier.

The programme provides real-life examples that will inspire other London boroughs to explore innovative approaches to tackling childhood obesity.

Over one in five of London’s 4-5 year olds are overweight or obese. The high number of fast food outlets in London’s areas of deprivation has been linked with high levels of child obesity.

Healthy High Streets Challenge

The Healthy High Streets Challenge called on three London high streets to submit ideas to make choosing healthier food easier for local children and young people. The Challenge took place on West Green and High Road in Haringey; Walworth Road and East Street in Southwark; and Clapham Road and around Stockwell Tube station in Lambeth. These are all areas with high rates of childhood obesity, deprivation and a high density of unhealthy food outlets.

Launched in response to HLP’s Great Weight Debate – which aimed to raise awareness of London’s childhood obesity epidemic – the programme was developed and funded in partnership with Public Health England, Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity, Battersea Power Station Foundation, Haringey, Southwark and Lambeth Councils, Hyde Foundation, and Innovation Unit.

The Challenge asked businesses, fast food shops, entrepreneurs, communities and schools for ideas to make it easier for children and young people to choose healthier food on their local high streets. The best ideas in each location were offered £2,000 to trial their plans for nine weeks, along with expert support to explore how successful they could be.

The finalists included Tasters chicken shop on West Green Road in Haringey. Shahid Majeed, owner and manager of Tasters, developed a new, healthier menu for children. He trialled how to ‘nudge’ the after-school crowd into giving it a try over a 4-week period of trading. Early sales figures are extremely promising and he expects to see an even greater uptake of healthier options over time.

Shahid Majeed, owner and manager, Tasters, commented:
“Initially, I was looking for an alternative to fried chicken. I started grilling the chicken and it worked really well, so I took it home and my son loved it. So, slowly, we have introduced it to the customers, who have responded really well.”

The results

The Challenge provided invaluable insights into how to make healthier choices easier on London’s high streets. One of the most important outcomes is a reminder that people do not actively choose to eat ‘unhealthy’ food; they choose food that is cheap, filling and tasty; for many people that means no more than £2 for a meal. The programme also found that, for young people, making decisions about what they eat is not just about food choices but also about price and location. They want places where they can meet their friends, feel safe and welcome. This is an important factor for policy makers working to reduce childhood obesity to consider.

With many small food businesses struggling to stay afloat, the Challenge also highlighted the need to support small businesses to create healthier menus that meet their customer’s needs and make a profit at the same time. Small food business owners do care about their customers and want to provide healthy options but they need to do so without affecting their profits.

The results of the initiative are being shared with other local authorities, funders, policy makers and others working together to reduce childhood obesity in a new report. The report’s insights will be particularly useful for those engaging with businesses and local people around the challenge of creating healthier food environments and to those developing local solutions to broader health challenges.

Jemma Gilbert, Director of Transformation (Prevention) at Healthy London Partnership, said:
“We’ve learnt that Londoners really want a healthy food offer in the city. We know that retailers have the potential to provide that and provide it in a way that is good for business and good for profit, so we want to continue to engage retailers in finding the solutions to childhood obesity. This health challenge isn’t too big that London can’t solve it. We just need to galvanise everybody towards solving childhood obesity and making the city a healthy food environment.”

Jessica Attard, Programme Manager at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity said:
“Research shows that the high street environment can have a big influence on the diets of children and their families. We joined the Healthy High Streets project to be part of an innovative partnership and learn how best to involve high street businesses and others in helping to improve health in their local communities. We’ve learned a lot about what works for local businesses to be part of solutions. We’re using this learning to design longer-term activities to improve the healthiness of high streets in urban areas like our boroughs of Lambeth and Southwark.”

Barbra Mazur, Director of the Battersea Power Station Foundation, added:
“We are delighted to partner with Healthy High Streets and support this initiative on tackling childhood obesity. We hope the findings from this report provide valuable insights that will benefit the local community in the long term, whether it is by running more similar hyper local educational programmes or ensuring healthier food options are made more readily available. It has been a great achievement for all those involved and we see lots of potential to expand this programme into other London boroughs.”

Download the Healthy High Streets report from our resources page here.

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