Public health officials call for healthier high streets

The Royal Society for Public Health has published a report today to highlight Britain’s “unhealthiest High Streets”, and called for measures to increase the “healthy” businesses in retail areas.

The RSPH assessed 70 of the UK’s major cities and towns, looking at the businesses in their main retail area and how they impacted the public’s health, with Preston, Middlesbrough and Coventry found to be three unhealthiest retail areas, and Shrewsbury, Ayr, and Salisbury found to be the most healthy. 

Businesses thought to harm health, the report said, included tanning salons, as well as payday loan shops and fast food outlets, while those thought to be beneficial to public health included leisure centres and health services.

Following its findings, the RSPH is now calling for steps to be taken to make Britain’s high streets more healthy, such as giving local authorities more planning powers to prevent proliferation of businesses deemed “unhealthy”, and allowing them to set discretionary business rates to encourage healthier businesses. 

The organisation also called for public health criteria to be a condition of licensing for businesses, and a limit of 5% of each type of business on a high street in order to avoid oversaturation.

Shirley Cramer CBE, chief executive of the RSPH, said, “Out research does find higher concentrations of unhealthy businesses exist in places which already experience high levels of deprivation and premature mortality.

“We recognise that businesses investing in high streets are important for local economies, but this shouldn’t be at any price. The Five Year Forward View calls for us to move “further and faster” to improve the public’s health. This could be achieved by granting local authorities enhanced powers to create a rich mix of health promoting businesses on our high streets and encouraging businesses to promote healthy choices.”