Perhaps it’s laziness. Perhaps it a belief that we simply don’t have the time. Whatever the reasons, British people have an enduring relationship with fast food, spending almost £30 billion each year on the stuff.
A UK Parliamentary research paper, “Barriers to Healthy Food”, published last year suggested that the average Briton consumes 200 to 300 excess calories per day, in large part linked to fast food consumption.
Characterised by convenience, speed and cheapness, fast food also happens to be bad for us: low in nutritional content whilst high in fat, sugar and salt. Once in a while may be OK, but numerous studies have shown that regular consumption of fast food leads inexorably to serious health conditions, including obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
One stark testament to our fast food culture is a health service which is creaking at the seams coping with these very same conditions.
Everyone (apart, it seems, from the UK government) recognises that our health service needs more funds to cope with the growing demands upon it. But this, to some extent misses a more basic truth: by the time people develop Type 2 diabetes or heart disease the damage has already been done and is far more expensive to treat. More, much more, needs to be invested in preventative measures to avert the decline into chronic illness in the first place.
A good first start would be to restrict the availability of fast-food outlets. Over a decade ago, a ground breaking Canadian study found that people who live closest to fast-food outlets are 2.62 times more likely to develop coronary conditions. A similar, more recent study published in the European Journal of Epidemiology confirmed that increases in the number of fast-food outlets in a locality is linked to a higher likelihood of death from cardiovascular disease.
There are some positive, if modest, examples of local government initiatives to address this particular problem. In Birmingham, for example, the city council has set a limit of no more than 10% of any shopping area consisting of fast-food outlets. To me that still seems a remarkably high threshold, but since that ceiling was introduced in 2012, the council has rejected 60% of all fast-food outlet applications in the city. Other Councils should follow suit.
We also need to take a long hard look at the food we are feeding to our children. One in three British children leaving primary school is now obese. Each day we feed our child junk food we help to build up a massive problem both for them and for our future health services.
Thanks to the inspiring campaign by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, standards of school meals have improved, but many schools are scraping along the bottom, only just achieving the basic standards set in the new regulations introduced in 2015. Then there is the problem of children exposed to a largely junk food diet during school holidays. Some Councils, such as the London Borough of Greenwich have teamed up with local charities to provide children with healthy lunches during the school holidays. Again, with imagination and funding, similar initiatives across the country could make a positive difference.
But all of these are compensating for the biggest. most fundamental gap in preventative care: education of children and their parents.
Unless and until we understand the long-term implications of bad diet, and junk food in particular, we will continue to condemn ourselves and our children to avoidable health problems and continue to put huge unnecessary pressure on our precious health service.
On to the recipe.
Fast food need not be mean unhealthy food, and this recipe is a good example.
This simple but delicious and nutritious dish has just five ingredients and is ready in under ten minutes.
stir fried broccoli with sesame and garlic
500 g purple sprouting broccoli, trimmed
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 tbsp toasted sesame oil
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp lightly toasted sesame seeds
1. Heat a wok over a high heat. When it is hot, add the oil. As soon as the oil begins to shimmer add the garlic. Stir vigorously for 30 seconds, so as not to burn the garlic, then add the broccoli.
2. Continue to stir fry for 5-6 minutes or until the broccoli is just tender. Remove from the heat. Add and stir in the soy sauce.
3. Serve immediately, sprinkled with the toasted sesame seeds, accompanied by rice noodles tossed in sesame oil or plain steamed jasmine rice.