A council will help protect children from obesity by setting up 400m "exclusion zones" around its schools to block new fast food takeaways from opening.

Members of St Helens Council agreed to the halt on fast food outlets around schools in a bid to cut down on the "growing problem" of obesity.

The Merseyside council said the number of "vastly overweight people" across the borough was now topping 20,000 and that the estimated cost to the local health system was £3.6 million.

Councillors heard that the borough is saturated with 161 hot food takeaways.

The type of fast food outlets banned from the exclusion zones include kebab shops, Chinese, Indian and pizza takeaways, fish and chip and fried chicken shops.

Those not affected include restaurants, cafes, bistros, pubs, wine bars, nightclubs and sandwich bars.

The exclusion zones will be managed via the current planning application system.

Councillor Andy Bowden, Cabinet Member for Urban Regeneration and Housing, said: "We have become increasingly concerned at the dominance of takeaways in the borough, particularly near schools.

"This move is in response to these concerns and will have an impact on health, particularly for our younger residents, as well as helping to tackle parking, crime and disorder issues in our neighbourhoods."

Other issues taken into consideration centred around large concentrations of takeaways, highway safety, hours of opening, odours and cooking smells, disposal of waste, litter, crime and anti-social behaviour.

In a bid to protect the "vibrancy and vitality" of its town centre retail areas the council said it will only consider hot food takeaways based on the need for passing trade, extent of window display and impact on the character of existing properties. Councillors agreed that there was a need to protect retail areas from hot food "takeaway clusters" which can have an adverse effect on existing shopping centres.

Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care and Health, Councillor Joe Pearson, added: "This sends a clear message that we intend to address the serious issues of poor diet and obesity to improve the health of the borough."