Fast food takeaways should be prevented from setting up business near to schools in Wales, according to a major new poll by Cancer Research UK.
Conducted by the charity as part of its campaign for action to tackle the nation’s obesity crisis, the survey found that almost two thirds (63%)* of people who expressed an opinion in Wales said they supported limiting the number of hot food takeaways near schools.
Across Wales, the number of fast food outlets increased by a huge 48% from 2010 to 2018.
Obesity is having a devastating impact on families with around 1000 people diagnosed with weight-related cancer every year in Wales.
Cancer Research UK says urgent action is needed. In the wake of the poll results, the charity is urging the Welsh Government to reform rules to prevent new fast food outlets from opening near schools.
The Welsh Government has acknowledged that action on obesity is needed and is currently consulting on a strategy to tackle the problem.
Cancer Research UK’s public affairs manager in Wales, Andy Glyde, said: “Research suggests takeaways near secondary schools have been linked to poor diet and increased obesity rates – and our poll shows the public want action.
“With the Welsh Government currently considering how best to tackle the obesity crisis in Wales, there’s a real opportunity to make a bold change.
“Weight-related cancer needlessly devastates the lives of so many families in Wales. The Welsh Government can help turn the tide with measures that will make an impact by assisting us all to keep a healthier diet.
“An obese child is around five times more likely to be an obese adult. By reforming rules to prevent new fast food outlets from opening near schools, the Welsh Government can make a positive change to the health of our children and the nation.”
The poll of more than 1000 people in Wales also discovered that the majority (67%) of those who expressed an opinion agreed that takeaway junk food is harming children’s diets.
And access to hot food takeaways by secondary school children during and immediately after school hours has been identified by local authorities as a factor contributing to childhood obesity. At least three Public Service Boards (Newport, Torfaen and Vale of Glamorgan) have highlighted this as an issue in wellbeing assessment reports that analyse the health of local communities.
The survey, which was conducted for Cancer Research UK by YouGov, also showed an overwhelming majority of the public (90%) thought that school or home-made packed lunches were the best way for a child to eat healthily.
Someone who passionately supports the campaign to restrict the number of hot food takeaways near school is Dean Woods who says many of his bad eating habits were formed at school.
By the time Dean, from Ebbw Vale, left school at the age of 18, he weighed around 20 stone. At his heaviest, Dean weighed 28 stone.
He says many of his bad eating habits were formed at school which is why he is supporting Cancer Research UK’s campaign to limit the number of fast food outlets near schools.
The 32-year-old said: “Hot food takeaways are just too accessible to children. I was always the largest pupil in the classroom. My school blazer had to be specially made as the regular sizes didn’t fit me. I felt embarrassed about my weight and I was bullied quite badly in school.”
Dean admits he would eat a lot of unhealthy foods and hated exercising.
“I hated sports as I couldn’t run around,” said Dean. “I used to eat a lot of fatty foods and would often snack on sweets and crisps from the local shop.
“As soon as I was old enough, I would go to the chippy with my mates. I was probably going at least three times a week and sometimes on the way home as well.
“I would eat chips, pizza, Chinese – all these takeaways were near the school and I just couldn’t resist them.”
After leaving school, Dean continued to pile on the pounds and it was during his early twenties when his weight led to depression and anxiety.
He said: “At my lowest point, I really didn’t want to be around anymore. My self-esteem was so low and I just couldn’t see a way past how I was feeling.”
Dean was determined to turn his life around, especially after meeting his wife Bel.
It took Dean four attempts to join a Slimming World weight loss support group, but once he did, he never looked back.
Dean lost an incredible 13 stone in a year, cutting out the takeaways and swapping them for healthier meals.
Now Dean is a new father himself, he is even more passionate about school children eating healthily.
His daughter Aria was born in December last year and Dean has never been happier.
Dean’s wife Bel, a primary school teacher, has also lost three stone with Slimming World.
Dean, who now runs Slimming World groups himself in Blaenau Gwent, said: “We want to be the best parents we can be as well as being good role models for Aria.
“I probably couldn’t have had Aria without losing all the weight,” said Dean. “I don’t want her growing up like I did as being overweight can be hard and losing weight can be a real challenge.
“Being overweight or obese can cause so many diseases including cancer, diabetes and heart disease. I hope the Welsh Government supports Cancer Research UK’s campaign so schoolchildren in Wales can live healthier and happier lives in the future.”