Junk Food and Triggers

Dr. Pretlow compares fast food outlets and stores that are rife with junk food to triggers. This hypothesis can be verified by riding along a major street with the parents of a small child who erupts at every appearance of a large yellow M. Reliably, each sighting triggers either repulsive begging or even the run-up to a tantrum, and it is too heartbreaking to be funny.

Even worse is the knowledge that far too many grownups carry around that shrill, demanding voice inside of ourselves. We see the M sign, or the logo of our favorite fizzy drink, and suddenly we are no longer in control of our destinies. Like organic automatons we reflexively obey, and eat or drink some vile concoction of deadly ingredients. And we call ourselves the adults!

For children, whose brains are yet unformed, the lure is even more irresistible. Would life be great if no one ever had to see one of those curvy yellow advertising symbols, especially near — or worse yet, inside — a school? Yes. Can a society do anything to eliminate constant triggering of the impulse to eat, eat, eat?

Rule Britannia

In Rotherham, South Yorkshire, fast food outlets increased by 34 percent in only eight years, and nearly 60 percent of food businesses in the city are fast food or takeaways. Also, three-quarters of the residents are overweight or obese.

The United Kingdom’s situation is not quite the same as America’s. England has lots and lots of tiny, independent takeaway outlets, which are just a step above food trucks, but located under roofs. Customers are not expected to go in and sit down, only to buy hot prepared food and eat it somewhere else. On a typical day, the average Brit encounters around 30 such establishments.

London, the capital, is trying. They made a new rule about how close to a school a fast-food restaurant could be — these are the yellow Ms and others of their ilk, where customers can opt to carry their food away, or to eat on the premises. The trouble is, all the approximately 8,000 fast-food joints that were already planted in the city, are “grandfathered in.” There is a new thing, too, that will not be affected — ordering online, straight from a “dark kitchen,” a kind of franchised insta-restaurant.

Making a Difference

London Food Link is the capital’s umbrella group, and coordinator of all kinds of change. Some activists teach people how to grow food; some try to influence government policy; others train the caterers who work for the public sector, to ensure that the taxpayers get their money’s worth. In some matters, there is discord:

Sustain’s London Food Link project has submitted a written statement to the examination of the draft London Plan welcoming a strategic policy covering hot food takeaways (and other food retail issues including markets). However, the policy is being challenged by major hot food takeaway companies.

While the mayor wants to ban takeaway food shops within 400 meters of any school, the aforementioned fast food restaurants would not be affected. Biochemist/chef Anthony Warner told the press,

I actually think it is an inherently racist policy… really about clearing out slightly unsightly businesses that people don’t like, like independently-owned chicken shops and takeaways. It was to kind of gentrify environments and I think it is a very problematic policy.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “More takeaways on high street despite anti-obesity push,” BBC.com, 10/23/18
Source: “London Food Link supports strategic planning policy to control Hot Food Takeaways,” SustainWeb.org, 03/06/19
Source: “Chef says ban on takeaways near schools is ‘inherently racist’,” TheGuardian.com, 05/03/19
Photo credit: s2art on Visualhunt/CC BY-SA

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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