‘Takeaway tax’ considered to tackle obesity ‘time bomb’

Liverpool faces an obesity “ticking time bomb” as city leaders consider a “takeaway tax”.

Earlier this year a remarkable report by Prof Matt Ashton, director of public health, outlined the direction of travel for Liverpool’s health in the next two decades. Among the headline figures were the city’s challenges with excess weight, particularly among young people.

Discussing how the issues can be met, Dr Senthil Senniappan, consultant endocrinologist at Alder Hey urged all parties at the city’s health and wellbeing board to ensure they played a role in healthier lifestyles for children.

Prof Ashton’s report in January said compared to England, rates of children with excess weight (overweight and obesity combined) in Liverpool are significantly higher and are increasing at a faster pace. In 2022/23 there were 1,375 4-5-year-olds and 2,205 10-11-year-olds who were overweight.

Of these, 645 children in reception and 1,445 children in Year 6 were obese. Obesity rates more than double in Liverpool children between reception and Year 6, increasing from 12.2% of children to 28.1% of children.

Prevalence of child excess weight is 1.4 times higher in the city’s most deprived areas compared to least deprived areas. In Liverpool, the proportion of children in Reception who are projected to be overweight or obese by 2040 is 34.9% compared to 46.9% in Year 6.

Dr Senniappan, who runs the complications from excessive weight (CEW) clinic, said 73% of patients come from the most deprived backgrounds while more than 50% experience learning difficulties or mental health issues. Currently, 60 young people are on the waiting list for treatment, with an average age across the board of 14.

He said, “It’s a huge ticking time bomb. Everyone should play their part.”

Data presented by Melisa Campbell, Liverpool’s associate director of public health, identified how the city is home to one in three of the most economically deprived food deserts – locations where access to nutritious and affordable food is limited. The city’s obesity crisis has been exacerbated by the easy access to fast food.

Ms Campbell’s presentation showed how the average distance from fast food is just a single kilometre compared to 2.6km nationally and 1.2km in other core cities. Of the city’s food outlets, takeaways account for almost 30%.

The director acknowledged the issues of weight, particularly in young people, was a “difficult issue to tackle” but warned of the stigmas attached to such a problem. She said Prof Ashton’s report was a “wake up call for all of us” but warned of “no silver bullet” on hand to dramatically change course, highlighting the need for a consideration of high street policy, given the condensation of takeaways in deprived areas.

The board was also told of how the matter extends to city adults. Prof Ashton’s research found how in 2021/22 one in four (24.8%) adults were physically inactive and 65.3% were overweight or obese, the third highest levels among the core cities.

Currently, one in three adults are food insecure while one in two do not eat five fruit and vegetables a day.

Cllr Liam Robinson, leader of Liverpool Council, said he would be keen to look at a “takeaway tax” – an increased rate of VAT on hot food – and suggested lobbying of large supermarket chains for the introduction of free delivery slots to encourage more people to access healthy choices. He said while many in more deprived communities may want to shop better, they can be put off by large delivery charges.

Prof Ashton said, “Obesity is a complex issue with complex causes and solutions. We have to take this seriously.

“The cost of intervention is high and the need is greater. If ever there was an argument for early intervention, it’s that.

“It needs a whole system response. We need to work hard to make sure everyone sees this as a responsibility.”

Image credit: amirali mirhashemian

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