Leader: Bold action needed to tackle obesity crisis

Obesity is one of the greatest public health challenges facing Scotland and the developed world. Together with smoking and alcohol it represents the biggest barrier to maintaining a healthy population.

Obesity is placing a huge burden on the health of our nation, impacting on workplace productivity and sapping the NHS. Picture: Getty Images/Purestock

The figures are already stark: around two-thirds of Scottish adults are overweight, with a third in the obese category.

In children, obesity rates in P1s continue to rise – having reached more than 10 per cent.

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

Obesity places huge pressure on an already creaking NHS and is linked to 13 different types of cancer. Almost 300,000 Scots are diabetic, largely as a result of poor diet, and doctors have warned that the prevalence of type 2 diabetes is increasing.

NHS Health Scotland estimates that obesity currently costs the economy, both directly and indirectly, up to £4.6 billion per year, with Scotland now boasting the highest incidences of obesity for both men and women among OECD countries.

Today we report on GP and academic David Blane who argues the Scottish Government’s anti-obesity strategy needs to be broadened to look at psychological issues, cultural pressures and improving Scotland’s weight loss services. Blane makes a strong point. But his intervention also emphasises the growing consensus for strong, bold action.

The Scottish Government was bold on smoking and is now pushing forward minimum pricing on alcohol.

And as with smoking and alcohol there, is no shortage of information of healthy eating – yet the public isn’t responding. The figures are getting worse, not better.

Education can take us so far but it will only be effective alongside concerted action to tackle junk food advertising, portion sizes and encourage manufacturers to reformulate products.

This, together with schemes that make it easier to exercise (such as the Daily Mile) are part of the fightback against the bulge. We only need to look to the United States to see what will happen if we don’t act.

A recent report by the Royal Society for Public Health concluded that the UK’s obesity crisis is being fuelled by businesses pushing unhealthy food and bigger portions on shoppers, with restaurants and cafes encouraging customers to upgrade to bigger meals and drinks.

Politicians in Holyrood agree that tough action is necessary. And a recent Scottish Social Attitudes Survey found that 91 per cent believe that fast-food is too readily available, while 82 per cent of the public support cuts to sugar, salt and fat in products.

Obesity is placing a huge burden on the health of our nation, impacting on workplace productivity and sapping the NHS. An ambitious approach is not only right but it is essential.

A consultation on an obesity strategy has recently ended. Now is the time for First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Public Health Minister Aileen Campbell to be bold and be brave. Our children will thank us for it.