Scottish food boss suggests UK obesity strategy won’t work

By David Burrows

- Last updated on GMT

Photo: iStock / ThamKC
Photo: iStock / ThamKC

Related tags: Nutrition

The head of Scotland’s food regulator has claimed that the UK’s childhood obesity strategy doesn’t go far enough.

In an interview with FoodNavigator, Geoff Ogle, chief executive at Food Standards Scotland (FSS), suggested it would difficult to tackle obesity with the package of policies put forward by the UK Government.

“The more potential solutions you take off the table, the harder it becomes to achieve what you want,”​ he said. “Some measures that are off the table now need to be put back on.”

The government angered campaigners – and to a certain extent retailers – when it published a watered down strategy​ on August 18, 2016.

A proposed tax on sugary drinks remained, but the brief paper didn’t include expected restrictions to limit the marketing and advertising of unhealthy foods. Neither were there the mandatory reformulation targets the British Retail Consortium had been hoping for.

Hard line

Scotland’s politicians may be prepared to take a harder line. Ministers are currently considering a number of proposals put forward by FSS as part of a review of the country’s 2010 obesity plan.

Adjustments to marketing, promotion and formulation of unhealthy products are all in the mix, as is a sugar tax. Industry has been given until January 2017 to come up with alternative solutions or face regulation.

Progress hasn’t been swift enough, FSS has argued. Despite reductions in the purchase of soft drinks containing sugar (down by 21% since 2010) total sugar purchasing has not changed, for example. Between 2010 and 2015, meanwhile, total calories purchased have not reduced at a population level in Scotland.

“Price promotions, portion control, reformulation, availability [of healthy products] and sugar taxes – we’ve put all of those out there and ministers will make a decision,” ​said Ogle. “There is no silver bullet,”​ he added.

The full toolbox

The findings of a report​ published by the McKinsey Global Institute in 2014 provided a “good base”​ for FSS’s recommendation to the Scottish Government. The GBI analysed 44 interventions, concluding that a range of interventions are required in order to reduce obesity.

Portion control and reformulation were the most cost-effective interventions for the UK, but restrictions on advertising and promotions of unhealthy foods were also on the list. “As many interventions as possible should be deployed at scale,”​ the authors noted.

In some areas, like reformulation, a UK-wide approach would therefore have been more effective, Ogle admitted. But Scotland could have to go it alone if it wants tighter restrictions and more regulations.

Last week Scotland’s health minister Aileen Campbell called on her counterpart in London to implement advertising restrictions on junk food as part of the obesity strategy or devolve the powers so Scotland could.

By 2030, 40% of the Scottish population will be obese, according to projections based on current rates.

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