Public Health England has published a map showing the density of fast food outlets across the country to help local authorities combat rising obesity rates.
The map is accompanied with figures showing the number of burger bars, kebab shops, fish and chip shops and sandwich bars in each English local authority and how the numbers compare with the borough’s population.
The PHE database will now be available for councils to use in conjunction with a new toolkit designed to help councils understand links between their food and drink environment and consumption patterns.
The toolkit has been produced by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health in partnership with London Metropolitan University and the Children’s Food Trust. It is expected to be published by the end of this year.
It is designed to help councils combat obesity rates by enabling them to first identify where interventions are required, develop a strategy and select suitable interventions. The PHE database will be key to helping assess the scale and nature of local drivers behind obesity.
The sort of mechanisms highlighted by the toolkit will include using planning, leases and licenses as well as healthier catering schemes, working with local schools and communities, advice and training initiatives and using ‘nudge’ techniques to influence behaviour.
‘The toolkit will emphasise the need for councils to take a ‘whole systems approach’ to local obesity rates meaning there is no single action that will solve the problem, you need an integrated strategy across the council involving a wide range of internal and external stakeholders,’ explains CIEH principal policy officer Jenny Morris.
‘There are a number of actions that local authorities can take ranging from a “soft” approach using advice and education to a stronger intervention that might involve restricting the opening of new takeaways.’
Local authorities such as Gateshead Council have been able to use Supplementary Planning Documents to ensure that new hot takeaways are not permitted in areas with high levels of obesity.Gateshead has managed to successfully use the planning process to help combat obesity by ensuring health is part of its overall local strategy outlined in its Local Plan.
Councils might also deliver change by requiring catering contractors working in their premises such as leisure centres, to improve the healthiness of their food offers.
The PHE data shows food outlet density ranges from 24 food outlets per 100,000 people in South Cambridgeshire to 199 per 100,000 in London’s west end.
The figures show that local authorities with the highest deprivation scores tend to have the greatest density of fast food outlets. Health survey data also shows that the prevalence of overweight and obese people also rises with deprivation.
One of the first prosecutions under new dog chipping laws that came into force earlier this year has revealed confusion among some councils on how to interpret the new rules.
The new laws requiring dog owners to microchip their dogs by the time they are eight weeks old came into force in April this year in England, Scotland and Wales. However, a lack of guidance from Defra appears to have left many council in the dark as to how they should be interpreted.
Under the new laws local authorities that come across a dog without a microchip or with inaccurate details on the chip can issue a 21-day notice on owners to rectify the situation. Owners who then then fail to properly chip their dog could be fined up to £500. The law has been in place in Northern Ireland since 2012.
In what is thought to be the first prosecution in England, Stockton on Tees Borough Council prosecuted Heather Westwood, 29, for failing to comply with the Microchipping of Dogs Regulations (England) 2014. Westwood had been given an extra seven days in addition to the 21 days stated on the original notice.Her dog, named Dotty, escaped from the family home in April and was handed in to Stockton Council’s animal welfare services by a member of the public. Officers found that while she was chipped it contained the wrong details.
It appears that Westwood had bought the cross breed as a puppy but had failed to change the details on the chip. Stockton Council has issued up to thirty 21-day notices since the regulations came into force and this was the first non-compliance.
After failing to turn up in court Westwood was fined £220, ordered to pay £130 costs and a victim surcharge of £30 totalling £380 payable in full in seven days with a collection order.
Mark Berry who is principal EHO at Stockton Council but is also chair of the National Companion Animal Focus Group (NCAFG) told EHN: ‘We are finding a lot of local authorities are struggling with these new rules which is worrying as there has been no guidance from Defra regarding the regs and no standard 21-day notice template so it has been left for every local authority to invent the wheel.
The NCAFG acts as the national forum on animal welfare issues. Defra estimates that one-in-eight of the estimated UK dog population is microchipped however, research carried out by local authorities estimates the figure to be far higher.
‘We did a survey with about 50 local authorities showing that at best you are looking at about 30 per cent of stray dogs are micro chipped,’ said Berry.
‘What our survey found is that not only is this is a much smaller number of chipped dogs than Defra anticipated but also of the dogs that are micro chipped at least 50 per cent of them have out-of-date details.’
Councils are finding that often the details are of the previous owner or that phone details are incorrect requiring resources for council staff to actually visit an address to see if they can find the owner.
Dog Trust research has revealed that 3,463 dogs are put down each year by local authorities. Chipping provides obvious benefits for the dog and owner but also save council funds as it allows the council to immediately return the animal rather than having to incur kennelling costs.
The new sentencing guidelines for health and safety, corporate manslaughter and food safety offences which came into force on 1 February 2016 and apply to any case sentenced in courts in England and Wales after that date, have seen some large fines and custodial sentences imposed on companies and directors. Security firm G4S Cash Solutions was fined £1.8 million after one of its employees contracted legionellosis, even though environmental health officers were unable to prove that the worker had contracted the disease from the site. Officers did, however, uncover a serious lack of compliance in maintaining water systems at the workplace. Of 101 health and safety fines issued, 38% affected those in the construction sector, according to insurance and risk law firm BLM. The three highest fines alone totalled £5.6m, all of which involved fatalities of either staff or customers. Directors of two construction companies were also given custodial sentences; one given six years after being found guilty of gross negligence manslaughter and the other being sentenced to six months after one of his employees was killed on site. The legal costs were substantial too, with the biggest three fines resulting in almost £185,000 in prosecution costs for the companies involved. As the courts become more versed in imposing the sentences, we are yet to see how big they will go – and, more importantly, if these sentences will act as a true deterrent, with the desired effect of lowering workplace risk.