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The Problem with Takeaways

There are nearly 60,000 takeaways in Britain, and most of us eat fast food on average two days per week. What impact is this having on our health?
Phoebe Hurst
London, GB
Illustration by Mel Lou

They say that in London, you’re never more than six feet away from a rat. But a better way to surmise this population-dense, questionably managed city might be your proximity to a takeaway.

In the 150-metre radius from my flat, there are almost too many to count. Closest is the pizza place on the corner, then the kebab shop a few doors down that stays open until 2 AM and has a torso-sized pillar of rotating meat in its window. In the other direction, there is a Chinese restaurant, a Vietnamese spot, and a handful of chicken shops dotted in between.


Expand the radius, and the takeaways multiply like a swarm of neon-lit locusts. Tennessee Fried Chickens, Dixie Fried Chickens, and legions of Perfect Fried Chickens; each with their own variation of the chicken-and-chips combo deal; Indian eateries churning out ghee-soaked naan bread; and fish-and-chip shops whose paper-swaddled chips you hold to your chest like a newborn on the walk home, still warm.

The takeaway is inextricably woven into the fabric of the British city. According to 2017 data from the Centre for Diet and Activity Research at Cambridge University, the number of takeaway food outlets in England has risen by 4,000 since 2014, resulting in approximately 56,638 shops across the country. A disproportionately high number are located in northern cities and deprived areas of London.

Due to the sheer number of takeaways now occupying our high streets—and the competition this breeds between owners to offer the lowest possible price—takeaway food has morphed from an occasional treat to a daily meal fix. A BBC survey from 2016 found that most Brits ate fast food on average two days per week, with one in six 16- to 20-year-olds eating it twice a day. Other YouGov research shows that nearly half of Londoners eat a takeaway at least once a week.

Many fear that this is contributing to rising obesity rates in the UK. A report on inner-city childhood obesity published by Guy’s and St. Thomas’ Charity last month found that people living in urban areas are more likely to be overweight than their rural counterparts, describing London in particular as “an abnormal environment where our surroundings make it harder to follow a healthy lifestyle and maintain a healthy weight.”

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