Health inequalities

Putting local authority food data on the map

How effective are local planning restrictions at improving health or reducing health inequalities?

Around half of local authorities have a planning policy to control the numbers of takeaway and fast food outlets in their localities.  Typically, this restricts the number of new outlets in an area, such as within 400 metres of a school.  However, there is currently no evidence on how effective these restrictions are in improving health or reducing health inequalities.

Fuse researchers in the NIHR School for Public Health Research (SPHR) used data from the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme (FHRS) in North East England held by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to find out if it could be used by public health teams and researchers to address this gap.

The Food Hygiene Rating Scheme data includes the location of all premises where food is eaten, sold, or provided for all local authorities in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland and has been available online since 2012.  The national data is available for public download, updated regularly, unrestricted in terms of use, and free.

The researchers assessed the spatial accuracy of the data by recording premises selling food in five areas in Gateshead and Northumberland, including urban and rural areas and those with least and most deprivation.  These areas were chosen because they were actively using planning guidance to restrict the proliferation of new takeaway outlets.

Key findings

  • The researchers found 182 premises during the ground work, of which 162 were in the FHRS data, giving it an accuracy of 89%
  • They could not find 8 outlets recorded in the FHRS data, giving an accuracy of 95%
  • There was less than a 100-metre difference in the accuracy of the FSA data and what was recorded during the field work for 77% (117) of outlets.
  • No difference was found in the distribution of food outlets in the most and least deprived areas, and there was no significant difference in the distances between urban and rural areas with an exception of one location in Gateshead with 15 mobile caters in one location.

Relevance and implications for policy

The findings demonstrate that the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme data provides an accurate picture on the number and location of food premises in North East England.  It can be used by public health practitioners to monitor the numbers of takeaway and fast food outlets, and to implement planning policy to control their spread.  This data is a valuable resource for practitioners to understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the food environment.  It has information on all food outlets so it will be possible to see how the food environment is changing because of containment measures to stop the spread of the virus.

What’s next?

The researchers have been successful in receiving further funding from the North East & North Cumbria Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) to evaluate different approaches in the North East to try and create a healthy food environment.

SPHR website: Improved use of routine data to assess and evaluate food environments

Linked SPHR themes/programmes: Places & communities programme

Last modified: Tue, 12 Jan 2021 10:26:34 GMT