July 20, 2024


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How the food delivery boom is fuelling Britain’s obesity crisis as experts warn we’re becoming ‘dependent’ on the apps

FAST-food Britain is set to become the fattest nation in Europe, as the rise in delivery apps fuels the UK’s obesity epidemic.

Experts warn we are becoming “dependent” on the technology, after on-demand dining surged by 100 per cent since the Covid pandemic hit.

Fast-food Britain is set to become the fattest nation in Europe, as the rise in delivery apps fuels the UK’s obesity epidemic


Fast-food Britain is set to become the fattest nation in Europe, as the rise in delivery apps fuels the UK’s obesity epidemicCredit: Alamy
Takeaways became the norm during lockdown - I’ve put on 3st, says 50-year-old Haley Green


Takeaways became the norm during lockdown – I’ve put on 3st, says 50-year-old Haley GreenCredit: David Dyson

Now doctors warn that the apps are not only leading to weight gain but also an increase in related health conditions such as Type 2 diabetes.

Dr Chinnadorai Rajeswaran, who runs the London Obesity Clinic in Harley Street, noticed people put on weight during the pandemic.

He said: “The apps make it so easy to get food. When you are upset you have easy access to takeaways. You can have your evening meal at 6pm and still order a takeaway at midnight if you want to.

“Most of my patients have put on a couple of stone. During the height of the pandemic, restaurants were closed. All they had was access to the apps.

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“The pandemic is a good example to show how these apps have promoted obesity. The food is often even less healthy than you might get in a restaurant.”

His comments come as a damning report by the World Health Organisation predicted that the UK will become Europe’s fattest country by the early 2030s, with 37 per cent of adults classed as obese.

The three leading delivery apps — Deliveroo, Uber Eats and Just Eat — have seen demand surge since the start of the pandemic.

Such apps — which 70 per cent of UK adults say they use — have made fast food more accessible than ever.

Former teacher Haley Green, 50, who lives in Forest Hill, South London, with her husband and two children, went from a size 16 to a 22 after turning to apps in lockdown.

She said Deliveroo and Uber Eats became the equivalent of an “adult ice cream truck coming down the street” and now uses her Instagram profile @postcards.from.haley to share her weight loss journey.

She said: “Before the first lockdown hit we’d get a takeaway once every three weeks

“But lockdown changed everything, and once I was using the app, treats became the norm.

“We’d have milkshakes delivered to brighten the day. If we fancied a tub of ice cream it was a click away. The kids could have burgers or pizza and we could indulge too.

“My son and daughter loved telling me about the meal deals or dropping major hints that they fancied a curry or a burger because there was a voucher or discount on the apps.

“My kids and husband have a super-fast metabolism, but I’m different, so after two years I’ve gained 3st, and it’s hard to lose.”

Stick to meat and two veg

Dr Aseem Malhotra, Consultant Cardiologist

TO beat the obesity epidemic, we need to beat Big Food first.
Huge food companies engineer hyper palatable and addictive food products to manipulate the masses for commercial gain.

Addiction is the opposite of free will, which further negates any argument about the obesity crisis being an issue of personal responsibility.

Unethical and undemocratic laws then allow such industries to mass market and advertise products that are harmful to health.

If you want to lose weight and be healthy avoid any food that comes out of a packet and has five or more ingreidents, usually with additives and preservatives.

This includes packaged bread and low fat flavoured yoghurts. The traditional British diet of meat and two veg is actually very healthy.

The message is simple. Eat real food.

The food app industry is predicted to be worth £6billion by 2025 — the same amount spent by the NHS annually on tackling obesity.

Besides creating a range of mobility problems, excess weight is linked to at least 13 cancers, heart disease and musculoskeletal conditions.

The Government also estimates that obesity causes more than 30,000 deaths a year and on average wipes nine years off life expectancy.

Dr Giles Yeo, a Cambridge University research scientist and obesity expert, argues that food manufacturers should be forced to make their meals healthier.

He said: “Unless we are going to be punitive and decide that a company like Deliveroo should be taxed or penalised, which I can’t see happening, I don’t think there is anything we can do about the delivering of food.

“We have to target the people making the food. If we can get the food manufacturers to make their food healthier, then Deliveroo will deliver healthier food.”

Takeaway meals are most popular among millennials, with some admitting to eating up to ten a month. And a quarter of children have had takeaways delivered to them at school, says a report by charity the Royal Society for Public Health.

Tam Fry, chairman of campaign group the National Obesity Forum, said: “We are in a terrible position.

“Deliveroo is delivering pizzas to schools, which makes a nonsense of school meals.

“We have a good standard of school meals but that is being thrown apart by having low-cost and easily available unhealthy foods.

“We’ve had cheap food for too long. We’ve got used to it and if it goes up, politicians won’t be popular. It’s all a big game and unfortunately we are all suffering.”

Boris Johnson has been accused of “totally ignoring” a 2019 report by then-chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies which laid out plans to tackle the country’s childhood obesity problems. She called for a ban on advertising junk food and price rises on foods that are high in salt, sugar or fat.

The Government last month introduced mandatory calorie listings at restaurants and cafes with more than 250 staff.


Mr Fry thinks the Prime Minister should consider more “nanny state” laws. He said: “Nannies were excellent in their knowledge of looking after children.”

Psychologist Emma Kenny warned that the apps are designed to make it easier to make “bad choices”.

She said: “They will give you deals, notify you, prompt you constantly. It’s all about psychologically prompting you. Some apps remind us to drink more water, others tell us it’s 30 per cent off your favourite curry on Just Eat.”

It is something that online marketer Rachael Shortt knows well. The 27-year-old mum of one, from Bangor, Gwynedd, has gained more than 3st since she began ordering three takeaways a week from Just Eat and Deliveroo in 2020.

She said: “My baby, Theodore, was almost two when the first lockdown hit and I was exhausted.

“But all I had to do was tap on my phone and a hot curry or Chinese meal would arrive.

“The marketing campaigns and discount offers were a real draw. But when I couldn’t pull on my size eight jeans I was shocked. When I had to buy size 14 or 16 clothes I knew I’d gained more than just a few lockdown pounds.”

Deliveroo told us: “Our outlook on health is simple, we want to provide the right information and a greater selection of healthier choices, as well as improved navigation to help find them.”

Just Eat said: “Just Eat is an online marketplace that works with over 60,000 restaurants across the UK, serving a diverse range of over 100 cuisines, from grilled chicken, vegan and vegetarian options to traditional curries, sushi or pizza.

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“Many already offer healthier menu options and smaller portion sizes so customers can make the choices for their families.”

Uber Eats was contacted for comment.

Rachael Shortt, 27, says: 'Marketing campaigns and discounts were a real draw - I’ve gone from size 8 to size 14'


Rachael Shortt, 27, says: ‘Marketing campaigns and discounts were a real draw – I’ve gone from size 8 to size 14’Credit: Pacemaker

Food delivery apps


RIDE-sharing app expanded into food deliveries in Aug 2014. Named Uber Fresh, it rebranded a year later. San Francisco-based firm cashed in on an exclusive deal with McDonald’s in 2017, but lost exclusive rights in 2020. Made first profit – $25m – last year.


ORIGINAL food tech site founded in 2005 after pals David Buttress and Jesper Buch came up with the idea over lunch in a West London Nando’s. UK market leader with 45%. £108m profit in 2020 after 4m people downloaded the app but £60m loss in 2021 after promo spending.


FOUNDED by Will Shu and Greg Orlowski in 2013 in London. Operates worldwide, including France, the Netherlands, Italy, Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Kuwait. 26% UK market share. Never in profit, stock market float flopped in 2020, posted £298m loss this year.