People who live and work near a high number of takeaway food outlets tend to eat more takeaway food and are more likely to be obese than those less exposed, Cambridge researchers have found.

Restricting takeaway outlets in our towns and cities, particularly around workplaces, may be one way of positively influencing our diet and health

Thomas Burgoine

People who live and work near a high number of takeaway food outlets tend to eat more takeaway food and are more likely to be obese than those less exposed, Cambridge researchers have found.

Published in the British Medical Journal, the study involved more than 5,000 adults in Cambridgeshire, and is the first to look at the combined impact of the home, work and commuting environments.

It found people were exposed to an average of 32 takeaway outlets, and that those most exposed to takeaway outlets were almost twice as likely to be obese compared with those who encountered the fewest takeaways.

Takeaway exposure was also strongly associated with a greater BMI and increased consumption of takeaway food. Those with the highest combined exposure to takeaway outlets consumed an extra 40g of calorific food a week (equivalent to half a small serving of French fries from a typical takeaway food outlet), and had a BMI on average 1.21kg/m2 greater than those least exposed. The association was most pronounced for exposure near people’s place of work.

Although population studies like this cannot prove a causal link between environments and obesity, the researchers suggests that limiting the number of takeaway outlets people encounter on a daily basis could help cut consumption of unhealthy food and excess body weight.

According to lead author Dr Thomas Burgoine of the UKCRC Centre for Diet and Activity Research: “The foods we eat away from home tend to be less healthy than the meals we prepare ourselves, so it is important to consider how exposure to food outlets selling these high calorie foods in our day-to-day environments might be influencing consumption. Our study provides new evidence that there is some kind of relationship between the number of takeaway food outlets we encounter, our consumption of these foods, and how much we weigh.

“Of course this is likely to be just one of a number of factors that contribute to a person’s risk of developing obesity. However, our findings do suggest that taking steps to restrict takeaway outlets in our towns and cities, particularly around workplaces, may be one way of positively influencing our diet and health.”

Over the past decade, consumption of food outside the home has increased by almost a third, with takeaway food outlets proliferating, and scientists believe this changing UK foodscape may be contributing to rising levels of obesity. 

Some local authorities have begun to place restrictions on takeaway outlets, such as exclusion zones around schools and limits on how many hot food takeaways can operate along a high street, in a bid to curb obesity levels. The results of this study suggest that such policies might be effective.

Results from previous studies into the impact of takeaways on obesity have been inconsistent, but most of them focused solely on the residential environment. This study of 5,442 individuals in Cambridgeshire – which accounted for differences between the participants, for example in age, sex, household income, smoking and levels of physical activity – is the first to look at access to takeaway foods at home, work and journeys in between.


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