Ban on takeaways near schools to fight obesity
Published 20/03/2014 | 02:30
AN exclusion zone for new fast-food restaurants around schools and playgrounds is being considered by the Government.
The national battle against obesity is to be stepped up considerably with a 'no fry zone' of 1.5km around schools, playgrounds and youth sports facilities.
A quarter of 11-year-olds are now clinically obese and health experts have warned that Ireland faces a multi-billion euro healthcare nightmare by 2035 unless concrete steps are taken to reduce youngsters' consumption of pizza, chips and burgers.
A coalition of health groups, including medical experts and public health officials, is behind a push to stop fatty food being sold within a 15-minute walk of the schoolyard.
New Draft Local Area Plans (LAPs), which will dictate national planning for the next decade, are currently passing through the consultation stage, with the Government due to sign off on them in the coming months.
The Irish Independent understands that the 1.5km 'no fry zone' is currently at the centre of the consultation process – although this is likely to face stiff opposition from fast-food chains.
Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald insisted that for the plan to be effective, the distances involved have to be "meaningful".
She said that the country must act quickly to avoid a future health catastrophe.
"The truth is that we are facing a very disturbing surge in obesity and this will have terrible long-term consequences for our children," she said.
"The time for action is now if we are to protect children and promote healthier lifestyles."
The Cabinet will ultimately decide on the new LAPs later this year and they will be enforced by An Bord Pleanala.
Ms Fitzgerald welcomed the 'no fry zone' idea as a "very positive approach".
Existing fast-food outlets will not be impacted unless they have to reapply for planning.
A recent health study found more than 15pc of Irish youngsters admitted to eating a takeaway more than twice a week.
Both Ms Fitzgerald and Health Minister James Reilly have expressed deep concern over spiralling levels of obesity, diabetes and high-blood pressure among Irish children.
"Health Minister James Reilly is absolutely correct that we do not want to be the first generation in Ireland to have to bury the generation growing up behind us," Ms Fitzgerald told the Irish Independent.
From boasting among the world's healthiest child body mass indexes just 25 years ago, Ireland has suffered one of the biggest increases in childhood obesity.
The idea of tougher planning laws for fast-food outlets was first mooted in 2011 but it is now firmly on the Government's agenda.
When enacted, it will legally restrict new takeaways around schools and children's amenity areas on public health grounds.
Such a zoning change will largely hit new developments and, critically, mobile fast-food operators.
The proposed legislation warned new area plans must "promote active and healthier lifestyles by ensuring that ... exposure of children to the promotion of foods that are high in fat, salt or sugar is reduced such as the careful consideration of the appropriateness and or location of fast-food outlets in the vicinity of schools and parks".
Three authorities – in Dublin, Wicklow and Cork – have already moved on fast-food operations near schools and playgrounds following submissions from health campaigners, parents and councillors.
Cork City Council is being asked by a fledgling health campaign group to pre-empt the regulations by imposing its own 1.5km radius ban on all new fast-food restaurant developments near schools.
"I welcome the proactive approach being taken by local councils and ABP (An Bord Pleanala) in seeking to restrict takeaways opening near schools," Ms Fitzgerald told the Irish Independent.
"Examples of this including the motion being considered by Cork (City) Council and the decision of ABP to reissue planning permission for two takeaways next to schools, both in Lucan, Co Dublin and Greystones, Co Wicklow," she said.
Experts warned Ireland faces a healthcare time bomb unless the damaging love affair with high-salt, high-sugar foods is tackled. A recent study found soaring high-blood pressure levels amongst 9-11 year olds because of their weekly reliance on fast-food.
Cork Food Policy Council (CFPC) argued such bans have proven very successful when introduced in the UK and US.
CFPC chairman, Dr Colin Sage, said something has to be done to tackle Ireland's looming health crisis. "We need to start thinking about how food systems are connected to health – we have to address the issue of people's well-being and dietary health."One study found that 60pc of Irish adults are either overweight or obese. It has been predicted that, because of Ireland's soaring sugar intake, the level of diabetes could treble in the space of the next 25 years.
Earlier this month, a Cork study found that 25pc of children aged 9-11 were overweight.More than 50pc ingested far above the recommended daily salt intake due to their weekly reliance on processed and take-away foods. The study was conducted over 14 months across a sample of 1,075 children in 27 schools in urban and rural areas.