Calling for “draconian” measures, the Great British Bake Off judge warned that obesity was rising and Scotland’s diet was arguably even poorer than England’s.
Raising her concerns during a discussion last week at Queen Margaret University at Musselburgh, where she is now chancellor, Ms Leith, said: “The diet of the nation is getting worse and worse.
“We have a huge obesity and diabetes problem....[and] Scotland’s nutrition is probably worse even than England’s, however a lot of [Scottish] policies are better [than those in England].
“We need draconian spending from government and quite a lot of legislation. For example I don’t think it should be legal for sweet shops and chippies to open by the school gates.”
However Leith also defended popular TV shows like Bake Off against criticism that they exacerbate obesity, believing they did “more good than harm” by inspiring people to bake.
“Most people start cooking by baking, and that’s good because it’s an easy way in and as soon as people start to think about cooking and realise how easy and satisfying it is they start to think about what to eat,” she said.
Tam Fry, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, backed Ms Leith’s call to outlaw junk food traders near schools and said more action was needed on burger vans at school gates after councils’ attempts to exclude traders were found to be unlawful by the courts.
As a result some schools were keeping pupils in at lunchtime to prevent them from accessing fast food, but he warned: “That will only work if schools also provide good food and redesign dining rooms so pupils want to eat there.”
The concerns follow growing pressure on the Scottish Government to ensure its current consultation on a national diet and obesity strategy brings tougher measures and meets its 2014 pledge to make Scotland a ‘Good Food Nation’ where everyone eats healthy, local produce.
In October a Holyrood report revealed “no progress” had been made towards key Scottish dietary goals since 2001, with Scots still eating too few fruits and vegetables. Increasing their consumption is key to reducing obesity and related diseases and conditions such as diabetes and cancer.
About two in three adults and one in four children in Scotland and England are obese or overweight.