A prominent health official has said that it is not fast food that is the biggest cause of obesity – but BETTING SHOPS.

Rachel Flowers said bookmakers “bleed the money out of people’s pockets” leaving them unable to afford healthy food for themselves or their children.

When asked how she would tackle obesity, Rachel, director of public health in Croydon, south London, said she was concerned by the effect of betting shops on people’s spending habits and diets.

She said: “The evidence shows there isn’t a significant causal link between lots of takeaways and obesity.

“There’s a fixation around chicken shops but, for me, the thing that causes obesity is betting shops.

“Betting takes the money out of people’s pockets. It means they have less money and time to prepare good food.”

The outspoken director said that cooking had become “a middle class occupation” and that most people simply don’t cook from scratch any more.

But she added that she was more concerned about betting shops when it came to the well-being of the population.

Despite her concerns, the former environmental health officer who became Croydon’s director of public health in February,admitted there is little local authorities can do about the amount of betting shops and takeaways on the streets.

She said: “Sadly planning regulations don’t allow us to close any takeaways or stop them from opening.

“For me it’s about supply and demand. Fried chicken is cheap and it tastes good. Fast food outlets open because people use them.

“The way we stop them is for people to stop using them.”

To do this, Rachel said councils need to show people that there are different ways they can access tasty, affordable and less calorific types of food.

As for betting shops, the director of public health said she understood it was a difficult issue, but vowed to work closely with the police and health services to build a case.

She said: “It will take time but we can do something about it.

“Croydon now has a director of public health who wants to change the conversation, who wants to look at the levers we have at a local level.”

The Association of British Bookmakers said its shops set limits on what customers spend and that staff are committed to helping people gamble “safely and responsibly”.

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