Covid pandemic exposes need for 'urgent action' to tackle obesity in Scotland

The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed an urgent need to tackle obesity in Scotland, Foods Standards Scotland (FSS) has said as the organisation laid out its plan for the next five years.

The higher risk of Covid-19 associated with obesity and the opportunity for change created by such a major crisis have highlighted the need to improve Scottish people’s diet and health, the organisation said.

There has been “no real improvement” in Scotland’s diet in the past 20 years, said FSS chair Ross Finnie.

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“The Covid-19 pandemic has brought the need to improve Scotland’s diet into sharp focus, highlighting the need for urgent action,” he said.

The pandemic has highlighted a need to combat poor diet, FSS said.

"Over-weight and obesity lead to poor health which increases the risks from Covid-19. There has been no real improvement in the last 20 years and the pandemic is a very stark warning that further policy action is needed to tackle Scotland’s poor diet. FSS will play its part by redoubling our effort on diet and health.

“The question for all of us when it comes to diet is ‘if we don’t tackle it now, then when?’

“Everyone, including FSS, government, the food and drink and hospitality sectors as well as consumers have a role to play in turning around poor health outcomes from overweight and obesity with a clear focus on preventative measures. We cannot do it alone.

“We will work with those who share our interests to reduce the burden of diet related disease that inhibits the nation’s well-being and prosperity”.

Linda Bauld

FSS chief executive Geoff Ogle said the pandemic has highlighted the poorer outcomes in terms of health for those who are either overweight or obese.

His comments came as campaigners at Cancer Research UK called on the newly elected SNP Government to legislate to curb cut-price promotions on junk food.

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Ministers had previously promised a Bill to ban multi-buy offers on these items – but this was paused last year after the coronavirus crisis hit Scotland.

Food Standards Scotland’s Chair, Ross Finnie.

Dr Gillian Purdon, the head of nutrition at Food Standards Scotland, said the organisation would focus its efforts on this area “once the new government is in place”.

About two thirds of Scots are currently either overweight or obese, Dr Purdon said, adding “this can increase the risk of many, many other diseases, such as type two diabetes, many types of cancer, heart disease and stroke”.

She said: “Obviously the impact of the pandemic has really brought into sharp focus that living with overweight and obesity is linked with poorer health outcomes from Covid-19, so it has sharpened our focus in this area.”

Dr Purdon said monitoring showed “our diet is too high in calories, fats, salt, sugar” – adding there had been “little change” in this situation over the past 17 years.

Speaking on behalf of Cancer Research UK, Edinburgh University professor Linda Bauld said the new strategy from FSS was a “a step in the right direction in Scotland’s efforts to slim down”.

But she said: “To make a difference, the Scottish Government must introduce legislation to limit junk food price promotions.

“These offers are fuelling the nation’s obesity problem by encouraging people to stock up on snacks and sweets. It’s vital we tackle this as carrying too much weight is linked with 13 types of cancer.”

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