A council is to become the first in Britain to limit the number of fast food takeaways in an attempt to tackle the obesity problem.
AP Photo, Sang Tan
The plan by Haringey Council, in north London, is to target areas where poor diet and lack of exercise has led to low life expectancy.
These areas have been found to have up to six times more junk food outlets than areas with high life expectancy.
Nearly a third of four to five-year-olds are overweight or obese compared to 14% in the better areas.
The council will use planning laws to refuse to allow more fast food joints to open, arguing they are detrimental to the community.
Those opposed to the idea say people should be free to choose. Simply limiting the number won't stop people eating there. And anyway they are not the only retailers guilty of selling food with virtually no positive nutritional value. Supermarkets are just as culpable.
This week's big question: should councils limit the number of fast food takeaways to tackle obesity?
Yes: A burger-a-day can turn kids into a walking cholesterol time bomb
One of those snapshots of modern Britain that has lodged in my mind for a good couple of years now was of a boy, who must have been no more than seven, standing outside a pub on a bright sunny day with his young sister. He had gone to ask his mother what was for tea. The mother emerged, thrust a fiver into his hand, grunted "McDonald's" and pointed across the road.
Now ok, you could say that it is not the fast food outlet that's to blame here but the mother. But had that McDonald's not been there?
No you can't make people eat well and chances are that the woman in this case would not have been likely to nip home and rustle up a quick spag bol. What you can do is stop making fast food the norm.
In areas where there is such a proliferation of fast food restaurants, a burger a day becomes acceptable. No one thinks it's going to turn you into a walking cholesterol time bomb. If everyone is doing it, it can't be that bad.
That fast food chains are now springing up next to schools is not a good sign. Children that would not normally bother seeking out junk food will be drawn in simply by the passing and the usual peer persuasion.
It's not just the takeaways that are to blame for the spiralling obesity rates. You can't go out to buy a paper these days without being offered a kilogram of chocolate for 20p. But you have to start somewhere. That's not to say there are not a whole host of things the Government still needs to do to make people realise that eating junk will kill them just as sure as fags and booze.
A quarter of men and women in this country are overweight. One in ten children in reception class is obese. It's time to do something to stop making a fiver for a Big Mac and fries the feckless mother's easy option.
No: Reducing fast food outlets won't destroy the desire for this food
While I commend Haringey Council for at least taking the issue of obesity seriously in its borough, I feel their latest plan will come to nothing. Why? Because there are such things as taxis and if their residents can't get their artery-blocking mega burger from their local kebab house, then they will just call a cab to go to another fast food restaurant.
In a way, fast food is the easiest target when looking for the reason for the obesity crisis we are suffering from and fast food restaurants are the easiest thing to restrict from our high streets. But it is only one of many different foods that are commonly accused of being the reason why one in four of us is overweight.
Surely it is the soft drinks, the crisps, the sweets, the pies, the cakes and the snacks that are just as responsible for our rapidly expanding waistlines but I don't see Haringey moving to reduce the number of bakers because they sell cream cakes. Do they want to ban any new Tesco Metros from the high street because you can pick up a multi-pack of Doritos there? Of course not.
Yes, there are healthy options in these shops but I would suggest the person who goes out looking for a Big Mac isn't really in the mood to change their mind and go for a heathy options chicken salad from Sainsbury's. Unless it was deep-fried.
You need to start with basic education rather than fighting the addiction after it has taken hold. By teaching kids about nutrition at a young age and showing the effects of an unhealthy diet, then you may start to get the message across.
We are suffering from a lack of control when it comes to our diet. While reducing the fast food outlets will reduce the choice, it is unlikely to destroy the desire for this food. And if anything, by reducing the number of outlets, the existing shops will only see their trade increase.
People need to take responsibility for their own actions and treating them like children in this way is not the solution. It may be a start but so much more needs to be done.