Tower Hamlets children ‘bombarded’ with unhealthy junk food adverts

Tower Hamlets Council attributes high rates of childhood obesity to the concentration of unhealthy junk food advertising in the borough, particularly in deprived areas.

Tower Hamlets borough, in which Year 6 obesity rates are higher than the UK average, has been “bombarded” with unhealthy junk food adverts, according to the council. 

During a Tower Hamlets Council health and adults scrutiny sub-committee, Katy Scammell, associate director of public health, delivered a presentation on child obesity in the borough and the causes and actions that have been taken.

Ms Scammell said there is a lack of healthy affordable alternatives and that in more deprived areas of the borough, there’s a “greater number” of unhealthy adverts.

She said: “We know that children living in deprived areas are more likely to access high numbers of fast food takeaways and also fewer cooking and growing opportunities.

“It goes much more widely than takeaways, it’s the importance of getting food right in places like schools, leisure centres and hospitals as well. Finally, we are bombarded by unhealthy advertising in the borough and again we know in more deprived areas of the borough there are greater numbers in unhealthy adverts as well.”

She explained there are three “key themes” that have been working to tackle the issue: “One is around creating healthy environments, one is identifying the importance of school curriculum and the environment the school is setting.”

Ms Scammell said the third is through the support of parents.

Later on in the meeting, Assan Ali, who works in youth and community engagement explained that he worked on a film with the public health team around a decade ago that looked at chicken shops in Tower Hamlets and why they were such a big thing for young people.

Mr Ali said: “Something that came out [from filming] that was quite strong amongst many other things was that for some it was an extension to the youth club or a youth centre – it was a safe space, it was warm on a winter’s night.

“When I was thinking about that, planning for this meeting, it made me think and then I obviously saw your presentation.”

He went on: “Over the last 10 years obviously you have been doing similar work and I’m sure there have been some changes but if we’re still in this position minus Covid and other challenges, something needs to drastically change.

“If we’re still above the London average and the national average and I’ve been hearing your work from 10 years ago and we’re still here, then something needs to really change.”

According to Tower Hamlets Council documents, 45per cent of the borough’s children in Year 6 have excess weight, which is higher than the national average for obesity (23.4pc) and overweight (14.3pc) rates for Year 6 children.

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