MINISTERS could use legislation to tackle the amount of junk food on sale in Scotland if the industry does not take action to help combat obesity, a conference has heard.
Public Health Minister Michael Matheson told the meeting of NHS staff in Glasgow that obesity posed a major challenge to the country.
He said the health service had to do what it could to encourage people to live a healthy lifestyle, eat healthily and take regular exercise, and people needed to take responsibility for their own health.
But Mr Matheson said they also needed to work with the retail and food manufacturing industry to tackle products that were very high in fat, sugar and salt.
‘Absolute junk foods’
He said walking round his local supermarket this week he had seen rows and rows of shelves stocking “absolute junk foods”.
“I could have taken my trolley and filled it up over and over again with deal after deal after deal as a result,” he told delegates.
“But in the fruit and veg aisles I don’t get the same deals to fill up my trolley.
“So we will be working with the food industry to take on their responsibility in tackling products which are high in sugar, salt and fat.
“If necessary, if they don’t take action, then I think inevitably governments will have to look at what legal and legislative intervention may be necessary to address these issues.”
Dr Colette Backwell, director of the Scottish Food and Drink Federation, said:“The Scottish Government has developed a draft framework for voluntary industry action to enable healthier choices in Scotland and is currently engaging with the food industry on the practicalities of this.
“Food and drink manufacturers recognise the scale of Scotland’s and the wider UK’s public health challenge and many businesses in our sector have already committed to take further voluntary action on health, building on previous well-recognised work.”
At the same conference Health Secretary Alex Neil outlined other challenges facing Scotland to improve the health of its population.
This included action to tackle inequalities which left children disadvantaged at a very early age. He said a “step change” was needed to help families facing difficult circumstances.
“We know from international research...that the life chances of any child are determined by what happens while that child is in the womb and during the first months of life,” Mr Neil said.
“It is recognised that by the time a child is six months old, that child’s life chances are largely already determined.
“Our challenge is to make sure that, without exception, every child born in Scotland has that support, attention and quality of service needed to make sure we maximise their chances of growing up with good opportunities in education, employment, nutrition and diet and exercise.”