A natural experiment using repeat cross‐sectional data measuring the impact of the opening of a new franchise of a multi‐national restaurant on young people's eating behaviours and their perceptions

Helen Moore, Claire O'Malley, Scott Lloyd, Fatemeh Eskandari, Kelly Rose, Mark Butler, Tim Townshend, Amelia Lake

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


INTRODUCTION: In this study, a drive through restaurant, which is part of a multi‐national franchise operation (McDonald's), obtained planning permission despite the existence of a policy to restrict the opening of new hot food takeaways. This case highlights the inadequacy of the planning system to deal with those outlets serving “fast food”, but defined as “restaurant”. This study aimed to examine whether the opening of a new franchise influenced the eating behaviours and perceptions of young people attending nearby secondary schools as before this opened, the nearest McDonald's outlets were 6.8 miles and 15 miles away.

METHODS: A repeated cross‐sectional study design was used to explore group level change over time. Data was collected via an on‐line questionnaire at baseline (prior to the multi‐national restaurant opening), 3 months and 9 months post‐opening of the restaurant. Two secondary schools agreed to take part, however one had to withdraw prior to data collection. The on‐line questionnaire was developed based on the learning from Thornton et al2, and was deployed using Bristol Online Survey. Tailored study information packs were distributed by teachers to children, young people and parents. Parents had the opportunity to opt their child or children, in or out of the study, via a process similar to that used in the National Child Measurement Programme carried out within England.

RESULTS: There were 459 participants at baseline, 213 participants (3‐month follow‐up) and 398 participants (9‐month follow‐up). A statistically significant change in the frequency of McDonald's consumption was seen for consumption 2‐3 times per month after the 3‐month to 9‐month follow‐ups (p < 0.05, Chi‐square = 4.17, df = 1); however, the strength of this difference was found to be relatively weak (Phi = 0.14). A higher proportion of students reported visiting fast food restaurants on a weekday at 3 and 9‐month follow‐ups (p < 0.05, Chi‐square = 7.90, Phi = 1.95), (p < 0.05, Chi‐square = 4.01, Phi = 0.10) compared to the baseline.

CONCLUSION: Eating behaviours of young people, in terms of frequency and consumption, were affected by the opening of a new fast food restaurant franchise in their local area. There was a significant increase in the frequency of visits and reported consumption on a monthly basis. There is a clear need for planning and public health teams to work more closely when considering applications for fast food/restaurant outlets, supported by amendments in the National Planning Policy Framework.
Foresight, Tackling Obesities: Future Choices. 2007, Government Office for Science: London.
Thornton et al., Health & Place, 2016. 39: p. 86‐91.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationObesity Reviews
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 29 Aug 2020
EventEuropean and International Congress on Obesity 2020 -
Duration: 1 Sept 20204 Sept 2020


ConferenceEuropean and International Congress on Obesity 2020
Abbreviated titleECOICO 2020
Internet address


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