Urgency required on Scottish Government diet and obesity plan, say campaigners

Written by Tom Freeman on 2 July 2018 in News

Scottish Government’s diet and healthy weight delivery plan promises more consultation before tackling retailers

Junk food 'munchy box' - k3b4b

A new Scottish Government delivery plan on diet and obesity requires urgent action if it is to succeed, obesity campaigners have said.

Two thirds of Scots are overweight or obese, and a Scottish Government strategy to tackle the issue has been due since 2016.

Following a consultation, ‘A Healthier Future - Scotland’s Diet and Healthy Weight Delivery Plan’ was published today.

It contains a number of actions to improve food education and commits to another consultation on restrictions to the promotion and advertising of food - despite there being overwhelming support for such measures in the previous consultation.

The consultation document also promised to legislate, but there is no promise to legislate in the delivery plan.

The forthcoming Good Food Nation Bill could provide opportunities to legislate, the plan hints, as well as a review of Scottish planning policy which could see restrictions of fast food outlets near schools or the provision of healthy grocery options in areas of deprivation.

But a pledge to commit to mandatory labelling of out-of-home junk food in the consultation document has become a commitment to “encourage” responsible labelling in the delivery plan.

Public Health Minister Joe Fitzpatrick described the document as “the next step” in a target to halve childhood obesity by 2030.

“But this is not just about children,” he said. “Two-thirds of adults in Scotland are overweight, and I want everyone, across all sectors including government, citizens, the public and third sectors and businesses to play their part in achieving our bold vision to significantly reduce health inequalities.” 

Lorraine Tulloch, who leads doctors’ campaign group Obesity Action Scotland, welcomed the publication, but warned it required action.

“If we want to ensure a healthier future for Scots we need the Scottish Government to implement the wide range of measures it is proposing,” she said.

“We know that the public support such action being taken and this was confirmed by the responses to ‘A Healthier Future’ consultation at the beginning of the year.”

“The next phase of the Scottish Government’s work on this issue is crucial.  We must see urgent implementation of the proposals to restrict promotion, marketing and advertising of food and drink high in fat, sugar and salt.  Only then will we create a food environment where it is easier to make the healthy choice.”

Professor Linda Bauld, Cancer Research UK’s cancer prevention expert, based at the University of Stirling, said the plan was “ambitious”.

“It’s positive news that the Scottish Government will consult on plans to restrict the price promotions that are fuelling the nation’s obesity crisis, but it is vital that these plans lead to laws that restrict these promotions.”

The Scottish Retail Consortium said it would “engage constructively” on proposals that were targeted and evidence based.

Head of policy Ewan MacDonald-Russell said: “We note the Scottish Government agrees with our view that any restrictions on the promotion and marketing of products in store will require mandatory measures to maintain a level competitive playing field, and note the recognition of the positive work many retailers have already taken to ensure a balance in promotion for consumers.”

However, the SRC warned disrupting planning permission may have unintended consequences.

“Surely the best approach is to tackle the whole food environment, including existing operators, than preventing progressive retailers who are offering healthier options from entering an area,” said MacDonald-Russell.

The Scottish Greens said the document was soft on industry. Health spokesperson Alison Johnstone said: “Any plan from government must tackle big business head-on, as profit-driven food manufacturers and retailers have too much influence over the choice - or lack of - in our communities.

“Sadly, the government's plan is still focused on encouragement and future consultations when we urgently need bold action.”

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