We spent 24 hours in Yorkshire’s obesity capital where there is a takeaway at every turn

It’s the obesity capital of Yorkshire where there’s more takeaways per head than anywhere else in the county and 74% of the adults are overweight.

Doncaster in South Yorkshire has the second highest obesity rate in the whole of Britain, with Knowsley in Merseyside taking the top spot. In Doncaster there is one hot food takeaway per 1000 people which is significantly higher than the national average.

A single road, the city’s iconic Silver Street, is home to 11 takeaways and 15 bars and clubs. YorkshireLive spent 24 hours meeting locals and business owners in Doncaster - now officially the unhealthiest postcode in the county.

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The situation in the city is so bad that in 2023, NHS figures showed that 1,010 of 3,645 Year 6 pupils (27.7%) measured in Doncaster were classed as obese or severely obese - which is higher than the national average (22.7%).

And it’s also having damning effects on the life expectancy of people who live in the South Yorkshire city - with a higher obesity rate, comes a lower life expectancy.

A report from Doncaster Council, reviewing hot food takeaway culture in the city, revealed that women in Doncaster are expected to live an average of 57.5 years in ‘good health’. This is six years less than the national average (63.5 years) and below the regional average of 61.9 years.

Similarly, men in Doncaster are expected to live an average of 59.1 years in ‘good health’. This is four years less than the national average (63.2 years) and below the regional average of 61.2 years.

These numbers are declining year-on-year, meaning that men and women in Doncaster are increasingly less likely to be in good health than other men and women across England - and the obesity rates across the city are having a part to play.

Exiting the M18 and driving towards the city centre, the first site of Doncaster was the famous golden arches. I was met with a McDonalds which was conveniently situated alongside a KFC, Pizza Hut and Costa drive thru - it definitely seemed as if I was in the right place.

Doncaster’s love of all things unhealthy only became more obvious when I stepped out of my car and was met with two women who were walking down the street eating their Greggs sausage rolls.

A short walk away and the city’s infamous Silver Street was awash with takeaways, dessert shops and nightclubs. As I walked passed a phone repair shop, two of the workers could be seen sat eating their McDonalds breakfast, while around the corner, people were lining up to buy food from Sterling Foods’ hot food counter where a wrap or burger with chips and a can of fizzy drink will only set you back £4.50.

KFC Doncaster
In Doncaster there is one hot food takeaway per 1000 people - significantly higher than the national average

The main thoroughfare was overtaken with fast food outlets, coffee shops and bars and it became increasingly obvious that it was almost impossible to find somewhere healthy to eat in the city centre - unless you had the willpower to go into the likes of McDonalds or Subway and order a salad.

The number of food establishments seemed to outweigh the number of retail stores along some stretch of road and a lot of the people walking down the street were either eating something from one of the city’s various takeaways or carrying it in a box or bag.

It certainly seems that if you want to eat it, then you’ll find it in Doncaster. The streets were lined with every kind of cuisine you could ask for from McDonalds to Subway, Japanese food, pizza, Chinese takeaways and dessert shops.

But what’s the city’s favourite cuisine you might ask? It might just be the Colonel’s favourite fried chicken. Earlier this year, Doncaster was named as the KFC capital of Britain - with people in the city visiting the fast food chain in the city more than anywhere else in the whole of the UK.

But what do the locals think about Doncaster’s love of all things unhealthy? A woman who owns one of the coffee shops on Frenchgate, and wished to remain anonymous, said: “I don’t necessarily think it’s businesses like ours that are the problem - a lot of people will come out for a coffee, or a bite to eat, or a piece of cake as a treat. I think it’s the way people are eating when they’re at home which is the main problem.”

Sofia's Bakery, Doncaster, Frenchgate
Earlier this year, Doncaster was named as the KFC capital of Britain - with people in the city visiting the fast food chain more than anywhere else in the whole of the UK -Credit:Yasmin Wakefield

Another business owner, who runs one of the vast number of takeaway chicken shops across the city, added: “We’re a business at the end of the day and we need to make money. I think people are capable of making their own decisions about what they want to put in their mouths.”

Councillors in the city have previously proposed limiting takeaway outlets to fight the obesity epidemic in the town, but residents think it’s unlikely that will happen. A retired couple, who were out for the morning and had just popped into Costa for their weekly coffee trip, added: “It was never this bad when we were young - I think the only way to solve the problem would be to get rid of these kinds of places completely- and that's never going to happen - not with the way things are nowadays.”

George, who commutes into Doncaster for work daily, said: “Personally I just find it a lot easier to go out and grab something for lunch than I do bring my own food. It saves me time in the morning too. There’s definitely a lot of choice here. My favourite is probably Greggs.”

Another person said: “A lot of people in Doncaster don’t have a lot of money, so it’s a lot easier to grab something that’s maybe unhealthier from a fast food place than it is to cook from scratch.”

Marcus, who has lived in the Yorkshire city for 30 years added: “It’s not a rich place. A lot of people don’t have the money to buy the ingredients to make all of these, fancy, healthy meals that you see nowadays. We’re struggling as it is.”

And these comments about the cost of buying ingredients to make fresh, healthy meals, may well have a role to play in Doncaster’s obesity crisis. Doncaster Council’s Health and Wellbeing Strategy report found that obesity rates vary drastically between those living in the most deprived areas and those living in the least deprived areas of Doncaster. Deprivation is higher in the city than the national average and approximately 22.7% (13,208) of children there in property.

Kelly, 26, who was out for the morning with her four-year-old daughter, explained it's cheaper for her to buy frozen produce than it is fresh. She explained: “For me, especially with the cost of living crisis, it’s a lot easier to go to the supermarket and buy cheap frozen food than it is to buy fresh, healthy things. I think something needs to be done about the cost of these things because it’s not right.”

In Doncaster market there were some signs of health - or at least, colour. After being inundated with the view of beige pasties, sausage rolls and white paper bags all morning, seeing some colourful fruit and veg being sold by a number of greengrocers was much appreciated - you just had to make sure that you turned your head and looked away from the Pound Bakery behind you.

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