Young children in Scotland are eating a total of more than a million sweet treats every week, raising obesity fears, according to new analysis by Cancer Research UK.
The charity is calling for urgent action following its analysis of data about how often children aged two to four years old were eating chocolate and sweets.
Cancer Research UK said excess weight is Scotland’s biggest preventable cause of cancer after smoking, with around 2,200 (7 per cent) cases of cancer a year in Scotland down to being overweight.
It is calling for the Scottish Government to introduce new laws to restrict multi-buy offers on junk food to help people eat a healthier diet. The charity said there is a great need for action as more than a quarter (29 per cent) of young children in Scotland are at risk of being overweight or obese.
Prof Linda Bauld, Cancer Research UK’s prevention expert based at the University of Stirling, said: “It’s clear from these new figures that Scotland’s love affair with sugar begins at an early age. While there’s no harm in the occasional treat, it’s clear from this new analysis that sweets and chocolate are regularly being eaten by young children in large quantities.
“Unfortunately, this is leading to far too many children becoming overweight – something which could have serious consequences for their future health.
“As part of its forthcoming obesity strategy, the Scottish Government has an opportunity to make a real difference to the lives of these children. Introducing laws to restrict harmful multi-buy offers on junk food would be one of the most effective ways to help families shop more healthily.”
The data about how often children were eating sweet treats came from the latest Scottish Health Survey.
Anne Milne, senior dietary adviser at Food Standards Scotland, said: “There is no single solution to our nation’s long-standing problems with obesity and this research brings home the scale of the challenge we face in Scotland.
“Around a fifth of the calories and fat we eat and almost half of the sugar comes from discretionary foods, including confectionery. With almost a third of children already overweight or obese, a range of measures is urgently required to make significant change.”
Scottish Labour’s health spokesman, Anas Sarwar MSP, said: “These are absolutely shocking figures. Balanced diets are a key part of maintaining childhood health and tackling obesity and it is clear far more needs done.
“The SNP government’s obesity strategy in the past decade has failed to make any inroads into the problem and the Tory government at Westminster ducked the big issues.”