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KFC's aggressive tactics to undermine councils' health policies exposed

KFC has challenged at least 43 English councils over their planning policies that restrict new hot food takeaways, successfully overturning local efforts to champion children's health in more than half of cases.

KFC store on a high street. Credit: TripAdvisor

KFC store on a high street. Credit: TripAdvisor

KFC has been undermining councils' efforts to restrict the opening of new takeaways, an investigation by the Times newspaper has revealed. The article details how the company has waged pitch battles against councils attempts to limit the opening of new food outlets and protect child health.

In response to the staggering levels of obesity and other diet-related diseases across the country, councils are prioritising their residents' health against the flood of unhealthy foods and drinks. One of the policies that many councils have adopted restricts planning permission for new hot food takeaways within 400 metres of schools. This policy aims to reduce the exposure of young people to unhealthy food on their way to and from school, as well as at breaktimes. In theory, once signed, these policies should prevent any new hot food takeaways from opening within specified regions.

However, The Times article uncovers how despite councils' best efforts, KFC has been able to challenge these policies, and successfully dismantled them entirely in more than half of cases. However, even where councils are ultimately winning these cases, defending their policies is placing a huge burden on already very stretched council resources.

Well over a third (38%) of Year 6 children are living with overweight or obesity. The Food Foundation's Broken Plate report this year revealed that there is a hot food takeaway for approximately every 1200 people in the UK. A similar ratio to that seen in the US, and more than double our European counterparts like Spain where it is one for every 3000 people.

Fran Bernhardt, Commercial Determinants Coordinator at Sustain said:

Big food companies are aggressively targeting local authorities and weaponising our planning and legal systems in order to undermine policies to restrict the marketing of unhealthy food. Obesity is soaring in this country, causing serious ill health and restricting life chances. National government needs to stand firm in the face of multinational food corporations who prioritise profits over people. The planning system needs reforming so local authorities are empowered to fight them off.

Kat Jenner, Director of the Obesity Health Alliance said:

The story of David vs Goliath is being played out in communities up and down the country, with local council leaders being pitted against giant junk food brands. Big multinational companies open outlets in areas with high levels of deprivation, then heavily promote and advertise unhealthy food and drink. People want the healthiest choice to be the easiest and most affordable choice — and they have been let down by the lack of government action. The future health of our children is at stake.

Stephen Turnbull, Wakefield council’s director of public health said:

What we’re trying to do here is build a place that is healthier. We work in a district that has got significant challenges, in health and financially, and a lot of poverty. Your choices are restricted by where you live. We can’t control everyone’s lives and we don’t want to control those people’s lives, but people can’t make healthy choices when there’s a takeaway straight outside the school. Quite a few were shocked that you’ve got a multinational company without a specific project in mind trying to shift policy to their commercial advantage across the country. There’s a question whether this is an ethical thing for a company to be doing. It’s probably quite surprising for people to realise that you’ve got a company employing people to challenge local government policy in this way. It depresses us.

Lord James Bethell, former Government health minister said:

Fast food is fuelling a child obesity boom that is costing Britain a fortune financially and in lost life. KFC’s aggressive tactics to oppose sensible local health measures to restrict marketing of junk food to children show they are not good-faith partners in our battle against childhood obesity and we need to toughen the powers available to local authorities and directors of public health to to protect children.

For more information on what your council can do to champion health and restrict new hot food takeaways, please sign up to our monthly planning newsletter and check out our toolkit, Hot Food Takeaways: Planning a Route to Healthier Communities

Click here to read the investigation in full from The Times (£).

Published Wednesday 6 December 2023

Good Food Local: Good Food Local supports local authorities to prioritise good food and commit to action on a breadth of food issues.

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