Restricting access to fast foods – Discussion paper

Restricting access to fast foods and takeaway food has been raised by the community as part of the overall discussion relating to the prevention of overweight and obesity. Restricting access to fast foods and takeaway food is also likely to be contentious within the fast food industry, council and the wider community. This section has two main functions:

  1. To provide information on the potential content of a planning scheme code for a council intending to restrict access to fast food.
  2. To serve as a discussion paper to inform planners of the opportunities and issues in addressing these issues through the planning scheme.

Discussion

It may be possible to use planning scheme provisions to limit access to, or availability of, unhealthy food and beverages. This can be done by managing or limiting the amenity, density and location of takeaway food outlets and fast food restaurants.

The principles of where certain types of shops or food outlets are located are similar. At different times we have seen a similar discussion about the location of snooker or pool halls, adult shops and bottle shops. However, applying this approach to takeaway food outlets and fast food restaurants is relatively new to planning policy, so is likely to be contentious and subject to community and legal scrutiny. This area of planning is expected to become more and more popular in the coming years, given the state and federal governments’ interests in promoting healthy eating and reducing overweight, obesity and related chronic diseases.

Location and Design of Premises

The purpose of a code addressing takeaway food outlets and fast food restaurants is to improve community health through the location and design of the outlets. In general terms, the policy intent is to:

  • Ensure takeaway food outlets and fast food restaurants are not located near buildings or facilities where children are likely to be or to congregate. For example, child care centres and educational establishments, including TAFE and universities, and sporting facilities and playgrounds
  • Limit the total number of takeaway food outlets and fast food restaurants. For example, through restricting the number of premises that can ‘cluster’ in a locality
  • Design the takeaway food outlets and fast food restaurants so that children and families are not encouraged to stay.
  • Reduce the level of convenience associated with accessing this type of food and beverage through limiting drive through and the number of premises
  • Limit the hours of operation.

The actual detail within the code — such as the number of premises that can cluster in a locality or the hours of operation — can be modified to suit the local situation. GIS/Analysis tools of this resource package contains guidelines on how to establish evidence around the location of these facilities in relation to certain socio-economic data.

In considering this matter, there may also be specific opportunities to encourage healthy eating in industrial areas, which tend to have high numbers of fast food outlets. It is recognised this will vary from council to council and no specific solutions are offered.

Definitions

Defining takeaway food outlets and fast food restaurants can be difficult as much of the research and policy to date has been about individual foods. The principles are not easily transferred across to restaurants as they can have a menu of healthy and unhealthy foods.

The ‘allowable proportion of unhealthy foods on a menu’ for example, has not been defined and traditional fast food outlets are broadening their menus to include healthy eating options. However, there is growing information on the use of zoning to restrict fast food outlets. In coming years this topic is likely to be more easily included in planning schemes, as the practical, political and legal aspects are refined.

Potential definitions are:
Takeaway food outlets and fast food restaurants: means food outlets mainly engaged in the preparation and sale of meals and light refreshments that are ready for immediate consumption where:

  • Table service is not provided; and
  • The meal can be eaten on site, taken away or delivered; and
  • The food is prepared and sold from a standard menu; and
  • Payment is required before the food is consumed.

The term does not include other types of restaurants.

(Adapted from: Turrell, G. 2003, The Brisbane Food Study: A multi-level and spatial investigation of socioeconomic differences in food purchasing behaviour, Queensland University of Technology, School of Public Health).

Or
Takeaway food outlets and fast food restaurants: a franchise or a number of similar establishments under one ownership, or management with common branding, where foods such as chicken, chips, pizza, hamburgers etc. can be provided without significant time delay.

(Adapted from the Food Standard’s Australia New Zealand (http://www.foodstandards.gov.au) and National Retail Association)

Workability of the code

The intent of a takeaway food outlets and fast food restaurants code is to control the design, amenity and convenience of these premises and restrict the location and number of premises. This approach is tempered with the understanding that planning schemes generally may not prohibit development or the use of premises.

In line with this assessment, the drafting of a code should ensure that:

  1. There is strong vertical integration between the code, purpose statement and Strategic Outcomes and consideration should be given to planning schemes which often seek to achieve a number of competing goals
  2. The code contains some measurable elements that place restrictions on the operation of a premises, such as hours of operation, inclusion of drive through and playground equipment. These elements may be controversial, however they are likely to be accepted within the development community.

The code may also contain elements that limit the number of takeaway food outlets and fast food restaurants. However, limiting elements are less tangible and may be difficult to asses. For example, how could council or the applicant measure the impact of one more, or one less, takeaway shop on the overall health of people in the area? Ultimately, the drafting of elements of a code to limit the number and location of takeaway food outlets and fast food restaurants or should be carefully considered. The content relating to limiting the restaurants should be a minor or secondary part of the code. While there is merit in having such a code, there are a variety of tools councils can use to address the prevalence of fast food or take away food in the community, and other tools may prove to be well accepted and successful.

Case Study

Los Angeles blocks new fast-food outlets