Takeaway businesses booming across the UK but not everyone is happy

The takeaway business has boomed across the UK during the pandemic – with anti-obesity campaigners warning the expansion is “deeply concerning”. There were around 43,235 takeaways and mobile food stands across the country in 2021, according to Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates. That was a 5.6% increase from 40,930 the previous year, which was the steepest annual rise since 2015 – the earliest year with comparable figures – when there were 36,855.

Use our interactive tool to see how the takeaway trade has grown in your area compared to others: That is likely to be at least partly driven by the pandemic, as people forced indoors during successive lockdowns turned to their favourite takeaway foods for comfort. It means there were 64.5 takeaways per 100,000 people in the UK – although that varied massively between areas.

Many places with the highest density of takeaways were in urban areas that would naturally attract the trade – Westminster in the centre of London came top, with 116.7 per 100,000. And towns such as Scarborough, which came second at 105.8 per 100,000, might have done so partly due to being coastal resorts with takeaways catering for tourists. However, many areas like Blackpool (third at 101.2 per 100,000) are also relatively deprived compared to many other parts of the country.

Katharine Jenner, director of the campaign group Action on Sugar and Action on Salt, said: “It’s deeply concerning that the number of fast food takeaway outlets has continued to rise at a staggering rate – especially in areas where there are likely to be high levels of deprivation. Our food environment, particularly now, is having a huge impact on the rise in obesity whereby two-thirds of adults in England are overweight or living with obesity.” The UK Government recently faced criticism for delaying elements of its obesity strategy by pausing a ban on deals such as “buy-one-get-one-free” offers on junk food and restrictions on pre-watershed (9pm) TV advertising of unhealthy snacks.

Despite the setbacks, Ms Jenner urged the Prime Minister to take urgent action to ensure takeaway outlets offer healthier options with far less fat, sugar and salt, and smaller portions. She added: “This will play a pivotal role in urgently rebuilding the nation’s health.” Tam Fry, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, warned that the number of takeaways could continue to rise as the cost of living crisis deepens.

He said: “Takeaways thrive in poorer urban areas where their customers find it too demanding to afford healthy and nutritious food. Away from big cities, even though poverty may still exist, these outlets are still able to make substantial profits. “Wherever their location local councils are increasingly powerless to cut down on their trade.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said the Government recognised the pressing need to tackle obesity, given the estimated cost to the NHS of GBP6.5 billion per year and the fact it is the second biggest cause of cancer.

He added: “We’re taking urgent action to encourage people to choose healthier food options through introducing calorie labelling on menus, supporting families through schemes such as Healthy Start and bringing into force rules on the placement of less healthy products in stores.

We will set out further action on levelling up the nation’s health through a white paper later this year.”