The Question: Will ‘no fry zones’ curb childhood obesity?

McDonald’s wanted to open near three Co Wicklow schools. The council’s decision to say no is part of a fight back against fast food and its persuasive online marketing

Golden arches: no-fry zones might make it easier to avoid fast food. Photograph: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg

Golden arches: no-fry zones might make it easier to avoid fast food. Photograph: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg

 

On Monday Wicklow County Council voted to ban fast-food outlets opening within 400m of a school or playground. The vote was the culmination of a three-year campaign to establish “no-fry zones”, after McDonald’s applied to open near three schools in Greystones.

The campaign, by No Fry Zone 4 Kids, had the support of the HSE, the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland and the Irish Heart Foundation.

Wexford may soon follow suit: councillors in Gorey have agreed on a ban, and Wexford County Council will consider one.

The Wicklow vote is being hailed as a victory in the battle against childhood obesity. But will no-fry zones work? In 2013 the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland introduced a code to stop products with high fat, salt or sugar from being advertised during children’s programmes.

But the World Health Organisation has just highlighted the proliferation of fast-food advertisements on children’s apps, on social media and on video blogs. It says fast-food companies are luring children by making their outlets key locations in augmented-reality games such as Pokémon Go and are paying influential video bloggers to promote their products on social media.

But though it may be hard to stem the tide of junk-food advertising online, at least no-fry zones might make it easier for parents to keep their kids out of fast-food outlets.

A new report commissioned by the HSE says that children from disadvantaged areas are less likely to eat fruit and vegetables, are watching twice as much television, and are more likely to be obese. Studies in the UK in 2015 found more takeaways in deprived areas. And Public Health England has produced a fast-food map of London, pinpointing the city’s 8,622 kebab shops, burger bars, and fish-and-chip shops. Just don’t let your kids get their hands on it.

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