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Slimming down Scotland: the Scottish Government’s plans to tackle obesity

Slimming down Scotland: the Scottish Government’s plans to tackle obesity

Aileen Campbell MSP, Minister for Public Health and Sport - Image credit: David Anderson/Holyrood

In common with many other countries, obesity is a major public health challenge for Scotland.

There is irrefutable evidence about its links to a great number of serious – and largely preventable – health conditions, placing significant and unsustainable demand on our health services.

That’s why, later this year, we will consult on a comprehensive new diet and obesity strategy.

As experts made clear to the Health & Sport Committee before Christmas, this is a complex problem to which there is no quick fix and no single solution.

However, there are lessons we can learn from our own experience in Scotland and elsewhere about how best to prevent obesity and make it easier for people to eat more healthily.


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We are considering carefully what this means for our plans, and assessing a strong body of evidence including data that shows strong public support for government intervention.

Meantime, I want to reflect on the impressive range of work that’s already under way.

We are investing £12m over five years on a range of programmes designed specifically to improve our nation’s poor diet.

In schools and communities – and importantly, with the food and drink industry – our ‘Supporting Healthy Choices’ framework encourages a range of actions to help consumers through better food labelling and reformulation of products.

Naturally, we have a strong focus on the NHS. It’s vital that hospitals lead by example and make healthier food choices much more widely available.

To that end, we have worked with hospital restaurants and cafés, insisting they adopt the Healthyliving Award, a set of criteria rewarding caterers for sourcing, preparing and promoting healthier food and drink options on their menus, to ensure that 70 per cent of all food and drink is healthier.

Those criteria have also been applied to vending machines.

Today, all of Scotland’s public sector hospital restaurants meet this award and now retailers and trolley services are following suit, with a major effort to switch sales to food lower in fat, salt and sugar.

With the help of retailers, the Scottish Grocers Federation, Food Standards Scotland and NHS Scotland, a new Healthcare Retail Standard has been implemented across Scotland ensuring 50 per cent of food and 70 per cent of drink meets nutritional criteria and promotions are only allowed on healthier products.

I was delighted to open the first such store last October in Edinburgh’s Western General and today more than 80 per cent of retail sites meet this new standard – a testament to what can be achieved when government works collaboratively with the private and voluntary sectors. 

The Healthyliving Award operates not just in hospitals but in the wider community as well. Here, the provision of good food goes hand in hand with wider activity.

The Healthy Valleys cafés in Rigside, Kirkmuirhill and Lanark in my constituency all recently received a Healthyliving Award but they additionally provide practical cooking skills, physical activity initiatives and nutrition courses to help people understand more about a healthier lifestyle.

This support is coupled with budgeting advice with the aim of helping those most vulnerable to rebuild their self-esteem and take control of their lives.

They are fantastic examples of a thriving community food sector that the Scottish Government supports through Community Food and Health (Scotland), a team whose expertise helps those small organisations achieve remarkable results every day, often in the most challenging of circumstances.

Our national Eat Better Feel Better campaign also provides support for community groups. Now in its third year, the campaign helps to signpost community activity through an interactive website featuring over 100 healthy recipes with a budget in mind.

The latest phase of the campaign focuses on the difficulty most mums face – getting children to eat vegetables.

As a mother, I’ve welcomed those hints and tips, many provided by users of the website.

Health promotion is embedded in our children’s education. Our Curriculum for Excellence includes specific experiences and outcomes to support children’s learning about food choices and their impact.

But the school environment and wider activities also play a vital part in improving children’s physical, social, mental and emotional health and wellbeing.

For example, the nutritional standards we’ve set for food and drink served in schools – and wider activity such as the Daily Mile.

We want to increase participation in sport and physical activity especially by older adults, women and girls.

We know that the best way to do this is to make it easy for people so we are taking action in each of the settings listed in the internationally acclaimed Toronto Charter: environment, transport, workplace, health and social care, education and sport and active recreation.

We will be publishing a new physical activity delivery plan during 2017 which will set out our refreshed approach to achieving a more active Scotland.

Walking and cycling are also important. Our recently published refreshed Cycling Action Plan for Scotland sets out the actions required to increase cycling for travel. 

We know that walking is one of the best things people can do for their health and is generally inexpensive and accessible.

The 2015 Scottish Household Survey showed that recreational walking, for at least 30 minutes, was by far the most common activity, up from 64 per cent in 2014 to 69 per cent in 2015.

The Scottish Government provided funding of £1.2 m to Paths for All this year to promote walking. 

Finally, Football Fans in Training is a hugely successful lifestyle programme originally aimed at men aged 35+ and with a waist size of 38 inches or more. 

Delivered at professional clubs, by professional clubs, participants get the opportunity to learn about diet and nutrition, healthy lifestyle choices and take part in gentle physical activity.

Each programme runs one evening a week for 12 weeks at the participating stadium, with participants building up their ability to take part in some football-related activity.

Taken together, these actions represent a strong platform on which to build our new diet and obesity strategy, recognising the importance of addressing the consequences of obesity as well as the underlying causes.

That’s why our investment in the early years and continuing commitments such as free prescriptions, concessionary travel, free personal care, and free school meals are so important. 

I want to make sure we develop a plan that, over time, will deliver benefits to people in Scotland no matter where they live and to wider society and our economy.

This means learning from our successful approaches to other public health challenges, where we have taken bold, progressive and sustained action.

It’s also important to keep an eye on what’s happening elsewhere – and build on it, where appropriate. 

For example, Public Health England’s recently published sugar reduction programme stands to make a very significant contribution to rebalancing our diet towards healthier food. 

I know that healthier eating and indeed healthier lifestyles are issues that interest and concern a lot of people.

That they are thinking not just about themselves and the here and now but also about their children and future generations.

Successfully tackling obesity and reducing the impact on our health will be challenging. It will require us all to think and act differently, taking heart from what we have achieved on smoking and alcohol.

I hope everyone reading this will take the time to consider the draft strategy when we consult on it later this year and offer views on how we best make progress. 

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