Belfast Telegraph

Revealed: The fast food capital of Northern Ireland

By Victoria O'Hara

Newry is the fast food capital of Northern Ireland with the highest number of restaurants for its population, a new study has found.

The investigation by an online pharmacy analysed the presence of major fast food brands - McDonald's, Burger King, KFC, Domino's, Subway and Costa Coffee - across the province's largest towns and cities.

By comparing the number of outlets to the population, it revealed Newry was the main fast food hotspot. It had six restaurants - averaging 0.30 stores per 1,000 people. That included three Subways, one Domino's, two Costa Coffees, one KFC, one Burger King and a McDonald's for a population of just under 30,000. Unsurprisingly, Belfast, with around 334,000 inhabitants, had the highest overall number of fast food restaurants with a total of 55. A breakdown showed there are nine KFCs, five McDonald's, five Burger Kings, four Domino's, four Costa Coffees. What stood out was that the city also had 28 Subway stores.

When it came to burgers, Craigavon has the highest number of McDonald's per 1,000, with three stores for 65,000 people.

Lisburn, meanwhile, has the lowest, with just one McDonald's for a population of more than 71,000. At the end of the scale both Derry and Bangor have, according to the research, the healthiest numbers, with the lowest number of outlets per capita. The study did not include local, privately-run fast food eateries. However, it comes amid major concerns about the obesity crisis that is growing in Northern Ireland. Six in 10 adults and a quarter of children are overweight and obese here.

Worryingly, 25% of children aged 2-10 were classed as overweight and obese - a figure that has not changed since 2005-6.

In 2012, research found that the estimated annual cost of dealing with obesity here is £370m a year.

The study by Safefood said about 25% of the total (£92m) was direct healthcare costs, including hospital, GP and drug treatment.

Dr Wayne Osborne, who led the new study, said that irrespective of population, several of the outlets have an established presence in urban areas and smaller cities like Newry and mid-sized towns such as Ballymena.

"They used to be outlets you would have to travel to the big cities for, but not any more. This seems to suggest that fast food outlets have such a strong brand behind them, that they effectively create their own demand," he said.

"The main attraction of fast food chains is their convenience, but the simpler options aren't always the healthiest. It's no secret that fast food is generally high in saturated fats, which can raise cholesterol levels and blood pressure."

Stephanie Leckey, area development manager, British Heart Foundation (BHF) Northern Ireland, said: "With nearly 60% of the adult population being overweight or obese locally, BHF Northern Ireland is concerned that local people are still continuing to make poor food choices."

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