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Scotland reveals target of halving child obesity by 2030

Doctors call for action on marketing of unhealthy food, better labelling, and free school fruit & veg

Louise Prime

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Doctors’ leaders have welcomed Scotland’s new target of halving the proportion of children who are obese, announced yesterday, but said the success of the government’s plans will depend on the nation taking concrete steps such as marketing restrictions for ‘unhealthy’ foods and drinks, better labelling, changes to planning policy, and providing free fruit and vegetables to primary school children.

Nicola Sturgeon said the Scottish government’s Healthy Weight and Diet plan, due for publication this summer, will set out how it plans to meet the obesity target by 2030; currently, she said, well over a quarter (29%) of children are at risk of being overweight, including 14% who are at risk of being obese. She cited recent research* by Food Standards Scotland showing that 9 out of ten people in Scotland believe that obesity is a serious problem, and 82% believe that reducing obesity is a shared responsibility; and a recent public consultation that showed good support for the restriction of marketing of unhealthy food.

The first minister said: “Obesity is a serious public health issue which cannot be ignored. Evidence shows obese children are likely to stay obese into adulthood and become more likely to suffer health problems such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases at a younger age.

“Our guiding ambition is to halve child obesity in Scotland by 2030 and we’ll outline in our forthcoming Healthy Weight plan how we will develop the necessary actions to achieve this, and help everybody make healthy choices about food.

“As part of this, we will tackle junk food promotions and the marketing of unhealthy food, such as multi-buys, that encourage overconsumption. To ensure that the steps we take are proportionate and deliver beneficial outcomes, we will consult widely with consumers, suppliers and retailers following the release of the new plan.

“Diet and activity go together and our Healthy Weight plan will build on programmes like Scotland’s Daily Mile that encourage children to be more active, by helping them to improve diet as well and to ensure our younger generations can live fit, healthy and active lives.”

Doctors in Scotland welcomed Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement, but warned that achieving the government’s new target “will require substantive action”. Chair of BMA Scotland Dr Peter Bennie commented: “Obesity is a major public health challenge that we must do far more to address in Scotland. Almost every doctor working in the NHS today will be dealing with patients who are overweight or obese and who will often have additional health needs as a result.

“A target to halve the rate of child obesity in Scotland is a strong ambition against which to measure progress, but achieving it will depend on what concrete steps we are prepared to take as a country to address obesity.

“Restrictions on marketing of unhealthy food and drink, better labelling, changes to planning policy, and the provision of free fruit and vegetables to primary school children are all important actions that doctors are looking to the Scottish government to include in their coming obesity strategy.”

Professor Linda Bauld from Cancer Research UK agreed that bold action is needed to tackle obesity, which is the biggest cause of cancer after smoking, and responsible for about 2,200 cases a year in Scotland. She added: “Price promotions play a significant part in what families choose to put into their shopping basket. In the battle to protect the health of future generations, it’s crucial laws are introduced to restrict the damaging supermarket junk food price promotions that are contributing to the nation’s obesity problem.”

*The Scottish Diet - It needs to change 2018 update. A report prepared by Food Standards Scotland, February 2018.

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