The winner of the “Backwards Mentality” prize this week goes to the Haringey community council in London for attempting to limit fast-food restaurants in an effort to “increase life expectancy.”
The council is “set to become the first in the country to limit the number of pizza, burger and kebab shops on its streets in an attempt to improve the health of its poorest residents,” according to the Daily Mail. The move is apparently being motivated by studies that show the life expectancy in Tottenham Green, where there are 14 fast-food outlets, to be 72.5 years. In Fortis Green, where there are only three such outlets, the expectancy is 81.5.
Well. It’s hard to argue with science like that. Surely the other factors of being poor – like less access to health care, elevated stress levels, potential for drug abuse and even possibly being the victim of violent crime – couldn’t have anything to do with it, right?
For the record, the World Health Organization attributes obesity to two factors:
An increased intake of energy-dense foods that are high in fat, salt and sugars but low in vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients; and a decrease in physical activity due to the increasingly sedentary nature of many forms of work, changing modes of transportation, and increasing urbanization.
Clearly, any politicians looking to stem obesity simply by banning bad foods are suffering from some of that second factor – laziness – since it’s much easier to blame burgers than it is to encourage people to exercise, or to educate them about the effects of such a diet.
Even the National Obesity Forum seems a little leery. While a spokesperson said the organization welcomed the move, he also suggested that perhaps the council was barking up the wrong tree.
“What’s hugely needed is that the government actually moves for the manufacturers to take out excess levels of salt, fat and sugars,” said Tam Fry. “If they did that there would be no particular reason to ban fast food outlets because they would be selling good food.”
The ironically named spokesperson also brought up what is perhaps the key point in all of this – if the council takes away the cheap fast food, what will the poorest people eat?
“The banning of fast food joints is theoretical though as there are huge sections of the population which depend on this kind of food to stay alive,” he said.