Londoners have identified too many cheap unhealthy food options as one of the top factors making it hard for children to lead healthy lives in the Capital. Here, HLP’s Dominic Jones reflects on the findings of the Healthy High Streets programme, which challenged three London high streets to try new ideas for making our high streets healthier.
Through the Great Weight Debate in 2016, Londoners shared their concerns about the food environment in the capital, including the abundance of fast food outlets and the difficulties and costs of finding healthy food.
Whilst the causes of childhood obesity are often due to numerous factors, the ready availability of calorie-dense food is recognised as a significant issue.
Foods from fast food outlets and restaurants tend to be more energy-dense than the equivalent foods prepared at home, and takeaways are of particular concern. Public Health England and others have highlighted that outlets selling fast food have clustered in areas of deprivation, and that the density of fast food and other unhealthy outlets is linked to high levels of child obesity. Whilst central London has seen growth in healthier food outlets and restaurants, this trend has not yet spread to greater London and in particular not to poorer areas.
Healthy High Streets was initiated by Healthy London Partnership, Public Health England and Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity, and developed in partnership with Battersea Power Station Foundation, Haringey, Southwark and Lambeth Councils, Hyde Foundation, and Innovation Unit.
The programme set out to find and test solutions to how we can make high street food healthier and started conversations with Londoners on how we can make healthier food choices easier for children and young people on the high street.
The best ideas in each of the three locations were given up to £2,000 to test their ideas out for nine weeks. They also received expert support to develop and promote their plans. Our award criteria were all focussed on potential for impact and change – we were looking for ideas with the most potential to make a difference, be possible, be long lasting, and to spread.
The winning ideas were:
Haringey Tasters chicken shop is a regular London chicken shop on West Green Road. They developed a new, healthier menu for children, and tested how best to promote this new menu to their customers.
Lambeth Oasis Play is a local youth charity in Stockwell that worked with young people to develop a healthier menu for young people in partnership with a local café (Leila’s Corner Café). The young people helped promote the new menu to their friends, and encouraged other local food businesses to make healthy options available.
Southwark We found 5 ideas from local entrepreneurs that all had potential, but weren’t quite ready to test. The judges were keen to support all 5 as a group to further develop their ideas, and so developed a 6 month support programme that combined direct support, group work, coaching, partnership brokering and specialist advice sessions.
Through the work of Healthy High Streets we developed a lot of insights that are relevant to those working to make healthy food choices more available on the high street. Firstly, change is possible; there is definitely appetite from young people for healthy food as long as it is tasty, filling, and affordably priced. The pilot in Tasters showed that with a small amount of effort, it was possible to shift almost half of the food bought by children to a healthier menu. However, it’s not all about the food – there is often a large social component that drives where and what young people eat.
Secondly, many small business owners who would like to offer healthy food options for their customers can find it challenging or complicated to do in practice. Our work in Lambeth showed that while businesses are keen to make healthy offers available, it is often hard to do so at a price point that works for both customer and business. Providing easy, cheap and simple ways for businesses to get involved is vital.
Finally, this work showed the power of relationships in encouraging and supporting businesses to engage with their customers on healthy food. This was evident in the relationship between the local authority and Tasters in Haringey, between the young people and local take-away restaurants in Lambeth, and between the local food entrepreneurs in Southwark. Good relationships provide the incentive to get involved, and the support to see the idea through!
You can read the full report here.