Tackling childhood obesity through planning – lessons from South Tyneside Council

Childhood obesity is a national problem and one which isn’t going away. Data published from the national child measurement programme (NCMP), in October showed the rate of severe obesity among year 6 children had increased by more than a third since 2006/7.

In the borough of South Tyneside, levels are higher than the national average, with more than 24% of 10 and 11-year-olds classed as obese. Councillor Tracey Dixon, Lead Member for Independence and Wellbeing at South Tyneside Council, explains how the council and its partners are tackling the issue head-on.

South Tyneside Council has a 20-year vision that the borough will be an outstanding place to live, invest and bring up families; with one of our top priorities being ‘healthier people’. Reducing obesity and promoting healthy lifestyles among our children and young people in particular is a key priority.

Both the levels of childhood obesity and the number of fast food outlets in the borough are higher than national averages. We’re committed to addressing these issues proactively via our Joint Health and Wellbeing Strategy.

Limiting exposure to unhealthy food choices is one of the ways we can do this. This week we have refused planning permission for a hot food takeaway in Hebburn, one of our three town centres, citing childhood obesity levels in the area as one of the grounds for refusal. It is the second time we have used new planning guidance adopted last year which seeks to manage the proliferation of fast food outlets.

The Supplementary Planning Document – SPD 22 – specifies that planning permission will not be granted for hot food takeaways in wards where the level of obesity in year 6 pupils is over 10%. In this particular ward, it far exceeds that, with more than a third of 10- and 11-year-olds classed as overweight or very overweight.

The guidance also seeks to refuse applications for premises within 400m of a secondary school which could make it easier for children to access unhealthy food options at lunch or home time. Managing the prevalence of fast food outlets is an important factor in promoting healthier living and reducing the number of overweight or obese residents. It is much harder to make healthy choices in areas where there is a proliferation of takeaways.

The number of takeaways in South Tyneside has increased by 18 per cent since 2014. There are currently 139 ‘A5 use’ units – which includes pizza shops, fish and chip shops, kebab shops and Chinese and Indian takeaways – in the Borough. We know there is a relationship between a high density of outlets and higher levels of deprivation.

This trend is contributing to an environment where unhealthy food options are widely available and is at odds with our efforts to tackle obesity and health inequalities. We believe schools provide a key setting to address and promote healthy eating.

As part of our Childhood Obesity Strategy, every single child in South Tyneside now attends a ‘healthy school’ where health and wellbeing is promoted and children are encouraged to lead a healthy lifestyle by, for example, taking part in the Daily Mile initiative.

School staff and governors have attended training on healthy eating, sugar reduction and how to raise the subject of healthy weight with families. Cooking sessions have been offered across the borough via school cooks and in community centres to children and their families. We will continue to use all tools at our disposal to fight the rising epidemic of childhood obesity.

If your council has innovative initiatives which you would like featured on our blog, let us know at info@lgiuscotland.org.uk

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