Radical steps to cut obesity rates in Amsterdam have worked well, says Stephen Jardine.
Once again, it’s time to talk about obesity. “Hang on, you did that just couple of weeks ago,” you’d be forgiven for saying and that’s true. But until something changes, no excuses are needed for returning to the biggest health crisis facing this nation.
A few weeks ago, it was chef Jamie Oliver’s turn to say enough is enough. This week Scotland’s First Minister joined the battle against the bulge. The two shared a platform in London where Nicola Surgeon uneveiled a hugely ambitious plan to halve child obesity rates in Scotland in just 12 years from 14 to seven per cent. The roadmap to get us there will be contained in a national obesity strategy called Healthy Weight and Diet to be launched in the summer. It will need to be hard hitting.
The 50 per cent reduction in childhood obesity simply cannot be achieved using traditional approaches. For it to happen, radical measures are needed and they can already be justified. In total, 29 per cent of Scottish kids are overweight or obese and experts warn the NHS could collapse under the weight of diet-related conditions unless something changes now.
Campaigners have welcomed the First Minister’s commitment to force change. So how will she do it? The sugar tax introduced in April is a clue of what is to come. Attempts to persuade the food industry to change have been too little and too late so more Government intervention is now likely. That could range from bans on price cutting and promotions on unhealthy food to no-go zones for junk food advertising around schools.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s decision to ban junk food adverts on the tube and buses could be followed by the same approach on public transport here. There is no one magic golden bullet but a raft of radical measures working together will make a difference. Amsterdam is the proof of that. If the Scottish obesity reduction targets are tough, they are nothing compared to the 12 per cent reduction achieved in the Dutch city in recent years. Perhaps most strikingly, the biggest falls have taken place in the most socially deprived areas. As ever, it required leadership. The city’s deputy mayor was given special responsibility for healthcare and ran the anti-obesity drive like a military campaign.
Amsterdam refused to sponsor any event joint funded by a fast food company. From birth, a huge focus was put on the first 1,000 days of a child’s life as the time when habits are made or broken. Nutritional advice and support was provided at every stage to help new parents do their best.
In schools, only water was available to drink and cooking lessons for all children were compulsory with a focus on healthy food and good nutritional information. Birthday celebrations involving cakes were banned. Sports centres were subsidised for children and families to encourage increased physical activity and advertising campaigns promoted the benefits of families eating proper meals together.
Even fast food chains got on board, agreeing not to sell chips and unhealthy food to children in outlets near schools. The astonishing results in Amsterdam prove dramatic targets can be reached but only if the measures adopted are just as radical.
There will be opposition. With Brexit looming, food manufacturers warn tough legislation could damage Scottish firms already struggling to compete with international competitors. They say they are making changes and just need to be given longer to go further but time has run out.
The Scottish Government are doing their bit but the rest is up to us. From GPs weighing ever child they examine, to grandparents explaining chocolate is not a treat, the road to success will be a long journey of small decisions all taken for the right reasons because we care about our country and our kids.