The second ‘food in Scotland consumer tracking survey’, published by Food Standards Scotland (FSS), showed that the 11 national healthy eating recommendations are “relatively well known” but the vast majority of people don’t follow them.
For example, around 90% consumers know they should be eating at least five portions of fruit and veg a day, but just 14% actually are. Just two of the 11 healthy eating principles are consistently followed (32% regularly drink six to eight cups of fluid a day and 48% avoid the use of full fat butter and cream when cooking).
FSS head of nutrition, science and policy Heather Peace said the results “help explain why we are so far from meeting our dietary goals in Scotland, as most people say that they don’t follow healthy eating advice”.
Almost four in five (79%) Scottish consumers said sugary drinks should be avoided, but around two in five (41%) still consume them at least once a day. Some 83% understood that snacks should be eaten occasionally between meals in small amounts, yet 92% claimed to consume ‘discretionary’ foods – cakes, sweets, chocolate, biscuits and savoury snacks – in an average week.
Reformulation, reformulation, reformulation
The positive news from the research is that “the public are prepared to accept government intervention in terms of reformulation of ingredients, and early indications are that industry are prepared to work with us as well”, Peace explained.
The new tracker suggested people would prefer reformulation to taxes. Awareness of the UK Government’s plan to introduce a tax on sugary soft drinks was very high (85%), but only 53% were in favour of the policy and 30% were opposed to it.
There was even less support and stronger opposition to taxes on other sugary foods (46% versus 33%, respectively) and foods high in fat (45% versus 35%). Almost one in two respondents (47%) said they would be less likely to buy sugary food and drinks if the price went up.
The appetite for taxes to curb consumption of sugar does increase significantly when it’s linked to lower prices on healthy foods. However, a far larger majority (75%) supports regulation of ingredients in food as a way of improving diet.
Price promotions also appear to be an issue – just over two-thirds (68%) said unhealthy foods seem to be on price promotion more often than healthy ones. This chimes with research by consumer group Which? in August that showed supermarkets are promoting more unhealthy products than healthy ones and that almost one in three Scots (28%) felt it was harder to eat healthily because it was more expensive.
Experts at Mintel have also suggested manufacturers are struggling to keep pace with demand for healthier snacks – only 11% of new launches last year had a low, no or reduced sugar claim, for example.
FSS’s new hard-hitting adverts to encourage parents to offer their children healthy rather than sugary snacks have attracted criticism in some quarters. In the TV ads, parents use treats to entice their children to talk about the horrors ahead if they don’t watch their weight.
FSS chief executive Geoff Ogle has admitted that it makes for uncomfortable viewing, but “it’s an uncomfortable truth that the amounts of ‘treats’ and unhealthy snacks we are feeding ourselves and our children could impact our long-term health”.
Just under half (44%) of the Scots surveyed by FSS said they consume snacks at least once a day or more, whilst around a fifth (19%) eat them twice a day or more.
The Scottish Government has committed to publish an obesity strategy next year. FSS has already put forward its advice to ministers, which includes a package of measures that could go further than the industry-led approach the UK Government has favoured in its childhood obesity strategy.