The routes children take between their homes and schools should be free of junk food outlets and advertising to tackle childhood obesity, according to a report.
Unhealthy fast food outlets should be banned from within a five-minute walk of the school gates and cycling and walking routes radically upgraded to help rather than hinder children’s health, the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) said.
It has also called for the banning of app-based food delivery services to school gates, signage to better quality parks, and the scrapping of “burdensome” regulations on lighting for zebra crossings to allow more “European-style” crossings to be painted on streets at low cost.
Junk food adverts should be limited in reach, including the banning of advertising of unhealthy food products across all council-owned advertising sites, the Routing Out Childhood Obesity report recommends.
A survey by the charity found 80% of the public would like an end to discounts offered to pupils by unhealthy fast food outlets near schools, while 65% back a ban on new unhealthy fast food outlets within a five-minute walk of the gates, and 68% agree that junk food campaigns across council-owned advertising boards should be banned.
The RSPH said its recommendations were based on research done in partnership with urban health foundation Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity, which included mapping the street environments of Lambeth and Southwark to gauge their impact on childhood obesity, as well as interviews and focus groups with school children from the boroughs.
RSPH chief executive Shirley Cramer said: “When the bells ring at the end of the day, a typical school child finds themselves in a situation they would otherwise rarely experience: With time to spare, friends to follow, change in their pocket, no adult direction, and a junk food offer within minutes on foot.
“It’s small wonder that, in this environment, junk food outlets have become one of the most popular after-school destinations.
“Our work with Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity has shown that if we are to give young people in the UK the options they deserve, and not settle for the cheap and unhealthy offer they are currently restricted to, we need a radical revamp of the street environment surrounding our schools.”
Kieron Boyle, chief executive of Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity, said: “Our joint research with RSPH points to opportunities to transform an important window in the day, when children and teenagers travel home from school.
“It shows practical ways to expand the flow of healthy, affordable food options and opportunities to run and play. Very few would argue with the idea that the routes children follow from school to home should promote health rather than hinder it.”
Ian Hudspeth, chairman of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board, said: “We urgently need to take action to tackle childhood obesity and councils are playing their part, but need stronger planning powers to help deal with this epidemic.
“The majority of councils have adopted policies designed to set curbs on fast food outlets, but current legislation means they lack planning powers to tackle the clustering of existing takeaways already open.
“Extra powers would also help them to control junk food advertising near schools, nurseries and children’s centres to beat the child obesity crisis, across all billboards, along with a strengthening of advertising standards.”