Redesigning the food environment to transform the healthiness of takeaway food

Many areas of the UK are dominated by unhealthy takeaway food, increasing the risks of poor diets and health problems like obesity and type 2 diabetes. In 2012, we set out to build a network of partners, across public health, fast food and nutrition and make a major contribution to the redesign of these environments.

Our work to re-engineer the landscape of unhealthy products and services on high streets has two main strands:

  1. Creating new takeaway services that are just as tasty, affordable and popular as the competition, but which provide significantly healthier food
  2. Working with existing takeaway outlets and local public health teams to help improve the healthiness of existing outlets

The need

“Rather than restricting takeaway food we should seek to transform it, by making healthy food as visible, tasty, and cheap as unhealthy food.”

Fiona Godlee, editor in chief, British Medical Journal

More than 1 in 3 children aged 11–15 years are overweight or obese. The prevalence of childhood obesity in the most deprived 10% of the UK population is nearly double that of the least deprived 10%, and low­ income areas have the highest incidence of health issues related to poor diets, including Type 2 diabetes.

There is a range of contributing factors, but it’s clear that a major influence is fast food. There are over 8,000 fast food outlets in London alone and each meal they serve provides an average of 68% of recommended daily calories, 56% of saturated fat and 53% of salt.

There is a clear need to reduce the potential harm of existing takeaway outlets and increase the availability of healthy fast food, particularly in low-income areas.

1. Creating new healthy takeaway services

“Some local government money is being spent on healthy­ eating education programmes but those tend to be exercises in preaching to the converted… Compared to that the Box Chicken project starts to look like the only practical effort to do something.”

Jay Rayner, The Observer

We completed a year of research and consultation, including ethnographic studies of young people and interviews with a range of stakeholders including youth workers, chicken shop managers, nutritionists, teachers, and public health officials.

In October 2013 we ran a small pilot in which we opened a mobile food outlet called Box Chicken serving healthy, affordable meals for a four week period in Forest Gate, Newham. We developed a menu and brand that was appealing to our target audience and served meals for £2.50 to young people. We served 1362 portions. 95% of the students interviewed who had tasted Box Chicken agreed that the food was tasty and 90% wanted it to continue trading in the area. Compared to an original recipe meal at KFC, a 300g Box Chicken meal and 200ml of orange juice has 60% fewer calories, 85% less saturated fat, 70% less salt and 20% less sugar.

This pilot was followed by several further trials, working with council partners in Tower Hamlets, Camden and Hackney, which have been evaluated and you can read the full report here.

These trials gave us a clear picture of many of the challenges and opportunities for healthier takeaway services. Using that experience and working closely with our network of partners, we are currently developing a proposition for a new UK fast food brand, which will aim to take tasty, affordable and healthy fast food into communities across the country.

2. Improving the healthiness of existing takeaway outlets

Through this strand of R&D, we set out to improve the impact of existing takeaway outlets, particularly in areas where these outlets dominate the food environment. We wanted to use our experience in leveraging behavioural insights to design consumer products and services to reduce the damage that these services do to diets and health outcomes.

After reviewing the existing literature and public health policy, we found that most efforts to improve the takeaway food environment suffered from a lack of detailed data on its characteristics and impact. In our work in east London, for example, we found a wide range of types of takeaway outlet and food, from very healthy to very unhealthy and from affordable to expensive. Without sufficient data on these differences, we knew that we couldn’t design effective interventions to improve them.

As a result, we have developed a new methodology and a digital tool that delivers three phases of improvements to food environments:

  1. The assessment and mapping of the nutritional impact of different types of takeaway outlets and food in certain areas
  2. The design and roll-out of health improvements to these outlets
  3. The ongoing assessment of these improvements and the measurement of their health impact

We are currently working with Tower Hamlets Public Health team, to refine and test this service and we are developing new partnerships with council and public health teams across the UK to roll it out in new communities.


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box chicken evaluation

Chicken Shops: Fuelling London’s Youth

October 2, 2013

Infographic on the prevalence and effect of fast food outlets

Tori Flower and Kate Ferrier

chicken shops poor diets

Chicken Shops and Poor Diets

October 1, 2013

Summary of research findings including behavioural observation, survey of young people, local environment mapping, ethnography, chicken shop business profiling

Tori Flower and Tayo Medupin


Box Chicken Launch

Hadrian Garrard from Create London and Nick Stanhope discuss the need for practical interventions to tackle poor diets at the launch of Box Chicken, a pilot of a healthy fast food outlet.



Public Health teams in our partner boroughs of Tower Hamlets, Camden, Newham and Hackney, which have supported both strands of research and development through investment, expertise, data and local partnership development.


Organisation fostering creative careers for young people in east London boroughs through mentoring, traineeships, work experience, careers fairs and apprenticeships. Together we are delivering the youth employment scheme.


The not for profit membership organisation helping our caterers becoming more sustainable.


The trade association dedicated to providing caterers with the information, systems and support to be safe, legal and profitable, focused on developing, supporting and shaping the UK independent catering industry.


A service that promotes and supports street food traders. We worked together to deliver Box Chicken last autumn and their support remains invaluable to this extension of the project.


The UK’s eco­friendly supplier of compostable and recycled food packaging – everything from compostable takeaway containers, plates and cutlery, to recycled cups, salad containers and napkins. They are offering discounts to our vendors.


HireHand connects small businesses needing hourly, task-based jobs with a talent pool of people looking to re-enter the workforce.


Catering Partners

The following food businesses have been involved in our consultation and trial activities:
Papi’s Pickles - A community-driven social enterprise. Their chefs have decades of experience in cooking homemade South Indian dishes using the best seasonal, local and organic produce.

Riojaes Cuisine - A husband and wife outfit, who pride themselves on their creation of Caribbean street food with a unique modern twist, as well as homemade sauces & marinades.

Soul Food Rocks - Yvette Thomas, foster carer, parent and keen chef serves her healthy take on Caribbean street food at markets and pop up events.

The Yellow Food Truck - Operated by Andy Corbett who trades at a variety of events, from street food markets, to festivals and weddings.

Supported by

nt  ef  create  uf    hackney  newham  towerhamletsCamden



newradFeatured on 2014 New Radicals list, compiled by Nesta, the UK’s innovation foundation, and The Observer, naming the top people, projects and organisations offering innovative ways to tackle social challenges.


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There are no current vacancies related to our healthy fast food work.

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