Planning Act Puts Victorians' Health at Risk

15 Jul 2013

Community protests in the Dandenong Ranges against the development of a 24-hour McDonald's fast food outlet highlights the urgent need for potential health impacts to be considered in planning decisions, according to the Obesity Policy Coalition (OPC).

The OPC is calling on the Victorian Government to act on recommendations of a Parliamentary Inquiry into Environmental Design and Public Health tabled in May 2012 which include:

• Incorporating protecting health as an objective of Victoria's Planning and Environment Act
• Commissioning further research on health impacts of fast food outlets on communities
• Developing a planning mechanism for local councils to limit fast food outlets in communities
Jane Martin, Executive Manager of the OPC, says the events unfolding in Tecoma in the Dandenong Ranges highlights the issues associated with the powerlessness of local councils and concerned communities to oppose fast food outlets on health grounds.

"At a time when more than 60% of adults and 25% of children in Australia are overweight or obese, councils and communities should be allowed greater influence over the density and location of local fast food outlets to try and encourage and support their communities to eat less unhealthy food," said Ms Martin.

"Research tells us that a high concentration of fast food or take away outlets can influence unhealthy food choices.

"As Victoria's planning system currently stands, the ability of councils to intervene in the development of a fast food restaurant and to act on community concerns is very limited," she said.

"The Environmental Design and Public Health Report tabled in Parliament in 2012 included several key recommendations to help address these issues. The Government hasn't yet acted on the recommendations, but the problems are only increasing, as indicated by the case of Tecoma."

Providing measures to support local communities to oppose the development of large fast food chains such as McDonald's is important for a range of reasons, according to the OPC.

"Chain fast food outlets sell huge volumes of food, representing 44% of foods eaten outside the home and much of this is unhealthy. According to a recent study of sales at multiple McDonald's outlets, only 1% of orders were for the healthier options," said Ms Martin.

"This volume of sales means they are able to sell their products very cheaply, undercutting local businesses and making them more attractive than healthier food options.

"Of course the bigger chains also spend hundreds of millions of dollars marketing their products, not just through traditional advertising, but via sports and event sponsorships, movie tie ins, point-of-sale promotions, and increasingly through cheap, highly targeted social media platforms," she said.

"It's imperative for health to be included as a consideration in planning schemes and decisions going forward. Federal and State Governments are pushing for councils to create healthy environments for their communities with initiatives like Healthy Together Victoria, which focuses on healthy food and physical activity. They now need to give councils the legal backing to be able to deliver this."