Northern England’s towns and cities have the highest concentrations of businesses that contribute to ill health in their high streets.
This conclusion has come from research by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) which ranked 70 towns and cities by the impact of their high streets on public wellbeing.
It looked at the health impact of businesses present – for example, vape shops, bookmakers and fast food outlets – and not directly at other factors such as air pollution or road safety.
Grimsby had the unhealthiest high street, and Edinburgh the best (see tables). London high streets were ranked separately.
The RSPH report, Health on the High Street: Running on Empty ,said average life expectancy in areas with the top 10 healthiest high streets was 2.5 years longer than in the 10 unhealthiest.
Life expectancy inequality
Male life expectancy in the least healthy area: 77.4
Male life expectancy in the healthiest area: 80.3
Female life expectancy in the least healthy area: 81.6
Female life expectancy in the healthiest area: 83.8
Changes that influenced the rankings included that in the 2014-2017 period the number of fast food shops grew by 8% to 56,638.
The most deprived areas had five times more such shops than the most affluent ones. Vape shops had doubled in number to 2,000 over three years.
Reforms to tackle this could include councils awarding rates relief for businesses that tried to improve public health, and new powers for councils to restrict the opening of new betting shops, and other sources of ill-health, where there were already clusters.
The RSPH also called for further reforms to preserve the vitality and social role of high streets by putting retailers on a more level playing field with online rivals.
Chief executive Shirley Cramer said: “While the face of the British high street continues to change, the environmental and economic factors that influence inequalities in health outcomes across the country remain stubbornly intractable.
“Our rankings illustrate how unhealthy businesses concentrate in areas which already experience higher levels of deprivation, obesity and lower life expectancy. Reshaping these high streets to be more health-promoting could serve as a tool to help redress this imbalance.”
Ms Cramer said business rates relief measures in last week’s Budget did not go far enough, leaving councils with “one hand tied behind their backs due to ongoing funding cuts, particularly in some of the more deprived areas”.
Michael Chang, project and policy manager at the Town and Country Planning Association, said: “The [report’s] recommendations highlight the need for greater policy clarity from government departments so local authorities are able to take more effective action against unhealthy retail outlets.
The top 10 unhealthiest high streets:
The top 10 healthiest high streets
7. Brighton & Hove
The 10 unhealthiest London high streets:
1. West Green Road/ Seven Sisters, Haringey
2. Roman Road (West), Tower Hamlets
3. Thornton Heath, Croydon
4. Angel Edmonton, Enfield
5. South Norwood, Croydon
6. New Addington, Croydon
7. Neasden, Brent
8. Harlesden, Brent
9. Canning Town, Newham
10. Rainham, Havering
The 10 healthiest London high streets
1. Muswell Hill, Haringey
2. Hornchurch, Havering
3. Pinner, Harrow
4. St John’s Wood, City of Westminster
5. Temple Fortune, Barnet
6. Hampstead, Camden
7. Kingsbury, Brent/Harrow
8. Whetstone, Barnet
9. Teddington, Richmond upon Thames
10. Beckenham, Bromley