DEBATE: Should we ban fast-food outlets near schools?

Would banning fast-food outlets near schools help tackle childhood obesity?

Professor Russell Viner, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, says YES.

As a childrens doctor and expert in obesity, I see the damage daily: children as young as seven with conditions associated with obesity such as type 2 diabetes, asthma and joint problems. We must ensure that measures are put in place to prevent more young people following this path.

Obesity costs £5.1bn to treat, and as a problem of global proportions, we need the solutions to have proportions that match.

A ban of new fast-food shops opening within close proximity to schools and colleges is one solution. Children come out of school hungry, and are greeted by fast-food outlets offering cheap, unhealthy food at pocket money prices. Portions are also creeping up in size, and so too are waistlines.

Food manufacturers have a duty to address the problem they help create. Local authorities have these powers but need to use them. Several local authorities have already supported this policy, so we now look to the rest to follow suit.

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Chris Snowdon, director of lifestyle economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs, says NO.

There are so many schools in Britains cities that a ban on new fast-food outlets opening within 400 metres would amount to near-total prohibition.

A licence to sell takeaways would suddenly become a golden ticket. Competitors would be locked out, prices would go up, and consumers would have their choices restricted.

And for what? No fewer than 39 studies have looked at this issue. Only six of them found a positive association between the availability of fast-food outlets and childhood obesity – 26 found no effect, and seven produced mixed results. Of the studies that found no association, five suggested that kids were actually less likely to be obese if they lived near fast-food outlets.

Six evidence reviews have been conducted in the last decade. None of them concluded that the proximity or number of fast-food outlets in an area has an influence on obesity.

A zoning ban would distort the market for no gain whatsoever.

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