Every fifth child in The Hague is overweight, and half of the inhabitants of The Hague are obese. An overview from the city council shows that in neighborhoods such as Escamp and Laak, a large part of the catering offer consists of fast food, which is generally considered unhealthy. In Escamp you can buy fast food in one of the two catering locations. In Laak, it is in more than four out of ten catering companies.
The fast food supply is growing steadily throughout the city. Not surprisingly, relatively cheap fast food is ubiquitous in poorer neighborhoods, leading to more health problems such as cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Health researchers have long called for the national government to take steps to limit the population’s obesity. The government aims for only 33 percent of the population to be obese by 2040 (the 1996 level) instead of 60 percent if nothing is done.
The Hague is not far off the 2040 spectrum. A spokesman for State Secretary Maarten van Ooijen (Christian Union, Public Health) says the cabinet will come up with a ‘municipal set of instruments for a healthy food environment’ in ‘September, but it could also be October’.
“And it’s not a day too early,” says Maartje Poelman, associate professor at Wageningen University. “We need to get rid of the idea that health is a choice. It’s not true. There are many factors over which you as an individual have no influence. In which neighborhood were you born, how were you raised? More and more fast food providers have appeared and healthy food has become more expensive. Your environment largely determines the choices you make. These contribute to the large socio-economic health inequalities. The government can do something about that. If we continue to see it as patronizing, we will not get there.”
“The realization that the state must come to the aid of the municipalities is slowly but surely coming,” continues Poelman. “According to researchers, the Netherlands excels in non-binding targets. Much has been agreed and promised to each other, but to date there has been no hardcore policy, no laws and regulations with which you can achieve a healthier living environment. Agreements are made and the industry must then implement it. With Van Ooijen’s commitment, but also with the sugar tax (increase in the tax on sugary soft drinks, ed.) and the abolition of VAT on fruit and vegetables (from 2024, ed.), something is really happening. It is not very much yet, but there is movement.”
The pain for the municipalities is that they now have nothing in their hands to prevent snack bars, shawarma restaurants and other sellers of unhealthy food from settling somewhere. After all, it is not a criterion for assessing a license application.
National regulations stipulate that this is only possible on the basis of stench, noise nuisance or waste. If The Hague now bans the establishment of a snack bar, that ban will certainly fall to the courts. A number of municipalities, including The Hague, wrote a letter about this issue to Van Ooijen’s predecessor, his party colleague Paul Blokhuis, after repeatedly raising this issue informally before.
Fast food zone plans
The councilor of The Hague, Kavita Parbhudayal (VVD, care) recently walked through Laak with Van Ooijen for a field study. A report appeared in the NRC. Parbhudayal told Van Ooijen that The Hague spends half of the municipal budget on care and that the options at the individual level (neighbor coaches, parent support, information, sports programs) are gradually being exhausted.
The Hague is investigating the possibility of changing zoning plans to ban fast food in certain places. Amsterdam and Utrecht are already trying to make fast food a special catering category, but it does not seem to be an easy road and it is already clear that it is not a solution to everything. Therefore, the hope is mainly attached to Van Ooijen’s instruments.
Haag Central has made a report in a number of fast food outlets in Laak and Moerwijk. You are reading this article in the paper version. Click here for all points of sale. You can also take out a (trial) subscription. You receive DHC 10 weeks for only 10 euros.