The food environment influences people’s choices over what they eat and these choices directly impact on health and wellbeing.  At an individual level, food plays a role that goes far beyond simply supplying people with energy and sustenance.  A healthy or balanced diet (see Box 1) is an important factor in preventing a range of diseases and early death.

Overall, diet is one of the biggest cause of preventable disease and death in the UK, according to the latest Global Burden of Disease (GBD) Study. 1

Unhealthy diets and consumption of food of poor nutritional content are directly linked to a number of health conditions and diseases, including obesity,A malnutrition, tooth decay, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.  The Faculty of Public Health estimates that poor diet contributes to: 2 3

  • almost half of coronary heart disease (CHD) deaths
  • one third of all cancer deaths
  • increased falls and fractures in older people
  • low birthweight
  • higher risk of disease and death in childhood
  • increased risk of dental cariesB in children.

There is growing evidence of the specific impact of fast-food outlets on health.  For example:

  • a study in the US found that increased patronage of fast-food outlets is associated with excess weight gain and insulin resistance (linked to type 2 diabetes) 4
  • a recent study commissioned by Hackney Council from London Metropolitan University and Shift Design found that living near a convenience store is associated with unhealthy dietary choices.

Notes

  1. Obesity is determined as a body mass index (BMI) of over 30 kg/m² or 27.5 kg/m² for Black and Asian adults
  2. Dental caries is caused by specific types of bacteria which destroy the tooth’s outer layers.

References

  1. Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, “GBD Compare,” 2015
  2. Ipsos MORI for Greater London Authority, “Child Hunger in London. Understanding food poverty in the Capital,” 2016
  3. Faculty of Public Health, “Food Poverty and Health,” 2005
  4. M. A. Pereira, A. L. Kartashov and C. B. Ebbeling, “Fast-food, obesity, and diabetes. Fast-food habits, weight gain, and insulin resistance (the CARDIA study): 15-year prospective analysis. Lancet 2005; 365: 36–42,” The Lancet, vol. 365, no. https://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(04)17663-0, pp. 36-42, 2005