Minister Urged To Embrace Unpopular Policies In Anti-Obesity Drive

23 January 2017, 06:38


Ministers may need to introduce measures that are "initially unpopular'' as part of a "bold approach'' to tackling Scotland's obesity problem, according to MSPs.

Members of Holyrood's Health Committee said while policies such as restricting cars in towns and increasing parking charges were "politically unpopular'' they could help encourage people to be more active.

They have also urged the Scottish Government to consider if regulations could be brought in on where products are placed in shops, in a bid to stop retailers promoting foods that are bad for health.

MSPs made the plea to Aileen Campbell, the Minister for Public Health and Sport, telling her: "We support a bold approach to the new obesity strategy and would encourage you to include options that may initially be unpopular as this could result in an important step towards balancing out health inequalities in Scotland.''

Almost two thirds (65%) of adults in Scotland were overweight in 2015, with this including 29% of the population who were obese. Meanwhile 28% of children were at risk of becoming overweight, with 15% at risk of obesity.

The committee is currently considering if it could bring forward its own legislative proposals to tackle the problem.

In a letter to Ms Campbell convener Neil Findlay highlighted the "obesogenic environment in Scotland'', where unhealthy food is "more available and more heavily promoted than in other countries''.

Two fifths of adults do not do enough exercise to meet guidelines, it added, with MSPs also pointing to a food culture of people eating together less, and snacking more, while poverty forces some shoppers to opt for high calorie choices instead of healthier options.

While the MSPs said "good policies'' had been brought in to tackle the obesity problem, they added they were "not necessarily translating into healthy outcomes''.

They said: "The main reason given for this was an inconsistent approach to resourcing the policies and frameworks. This resulted in successful policies not being scaled up or stopped altogether.''

Ms Campbell was pressed on whether the Government would restore its funding for the jogscotland, after it was "removed completely'', saying the project had been "particularly successful in encouraging women to undertake more physical activity''.

The committee also suggested money may need to be "ring-fenced'' to fund projects when a new obesity strategy is introduced.

The MSPs said: "We understand interventions cost money but believe preventative spend must be looked at seriously by the Scottish Government. The initial outlay would seem to be outweighed by the ultimate cost savings to the NHS, employers, and local authorities.

"All the above show there is no easy fix for tackling obesity in Scotland and a comprehensive long term, cross-portfolio approach will be required.''

Mr Findlay said: "We all know obesity is one of the biggest issues impacting on the health of people in Scotland and particularly those living in more deprived areas.

"The threat and impact caused by obesity is nothing new.

"However it is disappointing that whilst the Government has good policies in place to try and tackle this issue, they don't seem to be working and there was an inconsistent approach to resourcing these policies.

"Scotland has not previously been afraid to take the initiative to tackle health related issues when other interventions have failed. This is why this committee is asking for a bold approach to tackling obesity.

"If we don't act now, we will be condemning future generations to a lifetime of poor health which is often driven by poverty leading to poor dietary choices.''

Ms Campbell said: "We have consistently called on the UK Government to ban junk food advertising before the 9pm watershed and we are looking at what further effective actions we can take within the powers available to us, including the use of multi-buy promotions, as well as examining a range of actions to improve diet, physical activity and education.

"We have announced our intention to set out and consult on the development of our new diet and obesity strategy this year, building on our wide range of activity to make it easier for people - including children and their families - to be more active, eat less, and eat better.

"The Scottish Government is already investing #12 million over five years to this year on a range of programmes to tackle the nation's poor diet.

"We are also engaging with the food and drink industry on action to offer healthier choices, rebalance promotions, and reformulate products, with a focus on reducing calories, salt, fats and added sugar.''