Scots face reality of obesity’s effects as survey backs firm action

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

Public wants action to curb rising obesity levels in Scotland ©iStock/ThamKC
Public wants action to curb rising obesity levels in Scotland ©iStock/ThamKC
Firm limits on salt, fat and sugar, a tax on sugary drinks and a ban on the use of cartoon characters in food advertisements received strong support in a survey carried out by NHS Health Scotland.

Insights describing public attitudes to reducing levels of overweight and obesity in Scotland found substantial public support for action – specifically environmental factors that make it difficult to maintain a healthy weight.

“The results of the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey on obesity are encouraging,”​ said report author Deborah Shipton, public health intelligence advisor at NHS Health Scotland.

“They tell us that they believe that supermarkets, food producers, schools, the media and the government, alongside individuals, all have a role to play to address it.”

Susan Reid, research director at ScotCen, a foundation tasked with carrying out the survey, added that support was shown for limits on fat, sugar or salt added to food by manufacturers, with over 8 in 10 people in favour of their introduction.

“There was also a majority support for policies such as taxation that will increase the price of unhealthy foods. For example six in 10 people supported a tax on sugary fizzy drinks.”

Scottish anti-obesity measures

Scotland’s diet and obesity strategy is making progress with the country’s government set to implement restrictions on the promotion of high fat, sugar and salted food and drink.

Price promotions that include multi-buy; three-for-two and temporary price offers are set to be targeted after an underwhelming industry response regarding voluntary action to support healthier diets.

Additionally, the broadcast of TV adverts for unhealthy food is to be banned before the 9:00 pm watershed.

Ministers hope the measures will ease Scotland’s alarming levels of people who are overweight and obese. Scotland has among the highest obesity levels in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries.

The percentage of adults in Scotland who are overweight and obese rose from 52% in 1995 to 62% in 2008. By 2016, 65% of adults (aged 16 and over) in Scotland were overweight, including 29% who were obese.

Survey results

Findings from the survey 'Public attitudes to reducing levels of December 2017 overweight and obesity in Scotland' found the majority (91%) thought cheap fast food was too easily available.

After support for free weight management courses the greatest support was for the reformulation of prepared food.

However, the survey found there to be less support (47%) for taxation on foods high in fat, suggesting that, currently, the public perceive foods high in fat differently to those high in sugar.

Recommendations outlined include a focus on solutions, specifically how the broader environment could enable the population to achieve and then maintain a healthy weight.

To prevent increasing inequalities in obesity, the authors pointed to a more intensive approach in order to tackle the obesogenic environment in areas with more vulnerable populations.

Strong leadership was urged across all sectors of society from governments, retailers, restaurants, employers, the media, educators, healthcare providers and communities.

“The findings also give us insight into how different groups talk about and understand obesity,”​ added Shipton.

“We can tailor interventions to get maximum benefit and we can feel confident about some of the bolder, societal level actions needed, safe in the knowledge that the majority of the public understand the need for and support them.” 

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