Scotland mulls cooperation and regulation to curb obesity

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Nutrition

The Scottish government is proposing a series of actions to reduce consumption of energy-dense foods as part of a bid to curb obesity in the country, and has not ruled out regulations.

In 2008, 26.8 per cent of adults in Scotland were obese and 65.1 per cent overweight. In children, 15.1 per cent were obese and 31.7 per cent overweight.

“As overweight has become the norm, we have developed a distorted view of normal body shape and just how many people in Scotland are overweight and obese,”​ says the government in its new publication, Preventing overweight and obesity in Scotland: A Road-map towards healthy weight.

“…In the development of overweight and obesity the roles played by temptation and current social norms regarding body weight should not be underestimated.”

The roadmap sets out four areas to tackle: energy consumption; energy expenditure; early years; and working lives.

The energy consumption measures include working with the Scottish Retailers’ Forum (made up of supermarkets, Scotland Food & Drink and the Scottish Retail Consortium) to reduce the ratio of energy-dense foods and drinks to lower energy options in both supermarkets and convenience stores.

It also plans to work with industry over portion sizes and labels that “better reflect consumers’ energy needs​”. Part of this includes standardising ready-meal and restaurant meal sizes.

It also keeps a window open for regulatory action, saying: “Where voluntary approaches to reformulation, portion size adjustment and stocking policies do not achieve sufficient progress towards and healthier balance in the meals, food and drinks sold in Scotland we will consider appropriate statutory means to increase the rate of change”.

Work underway

The Scottish government pledged to continue a number of collaborations that are already underway. These include reformulating foods and positioning ‘healthy’ as a mainstream marketing tool; and working with the Food Standards Agency to reduce salt, sugar, saturated fat, and portion sizes.

But industry was quick to point out strides that have been made so far. Flora McLean, Director of the Scottish Food and Drink Federation, said: “The Scottish food and drink industry has shown real leadership in how it has already responded to society’s concerns about the health of the nation, particularly rising rates of obesity. Our members are making a real difference on a number of fronts: through their efforts to change the recipes of popular brands so they are lower in sugar, salt and fat; improving the nutrition information carried on packs; and promoting healthier lifestyles as part of their workplace wellbeing schemes.

“Our sector is rightly proud of the positive contribution it has made so far and we look forward to working with the Scottish Executive in genuine partnership to improve the health of the nation.”

Ian Shearer, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said: "Retailers already have a great record on reducing fat, sugar and salt in their products, providing nutritional information and delivering excellent value, quality food – all without the need for regulation.
"We support continuing efforts in this area, but policy makers must recognise it's ultimately individuals who decide what they eat. Change needs to take customers with it if it's going to work. There's no point reducing portion sizes if people then buy two, or reformulating products in a way that makes the taste unacceptable.
"Demonising particular foods or pack sizes is not the answer. Enabling and encouraging people to choose balanced diets and recognising the importance of other factors such as education and exercise, is.”

Related topics: Policy, Reformulation

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