The thought of food evokes a passionate and emotional response in all of us. It forms such an important part of our daily life and is associated with memories, connections, people and celebrations. That’s why the Scottish Government’s plans for poppadoms and prawn crackers has generated such a vigorous debate.
This passion for food can be constructive and positive. But in Scotland, our relationship with the wrong types of food has had worrying consequences. Today in Scotland 65 per cent of adults are overweight or obese. Their life expectancy is lower, and they face a higher chance of suffering from serious health problems, from heart disease to cancer. This medical emergency is not a problem caused by a lack of strong will.
The fact is, this epidemic of obesity is a very normal response to the unhealthy environment we have created for ourselves.
How many times has each one of us made a decision to lose weight? How many times have we failed? Why do we keep failing? The answer is simple: we are surrounded by temptations. We’ve created an unhealthy environment.
The Scottish Government has proposed a set of actions to restrict promotions for unhealthy food and drink in Scotland. This isn’t a ban. People will still be able to exercise their own free will when it comes to what foods they eat.
If the proposals are put in place, unhealthy food and drink will still be freely available, but they won’t be tempting us with lower prices and larger volumes every time we are shopping or eating out.
The UK is the worst among European countries for the number of promotions on food. In Scotland, as much as 36 per cent of our food and drink is bought on promotion. The problem is that promoted products are usually the less healthy ones. That’s why we think this proposal will help, by making it easier on all of us to make healthier choices.
Promotions may sound good but while they make products cheaper, they also encourage people to buy more. And we do.
The result is that in the end we spend more and eat more than if there were no promotions. Up to now, consumers have been manipulated by retailers and food producers to buy and consume more.
If adopted, this proposal would start to level the playing field for consumers.
We may spend hundreds of pounds on diet plans and gym memberships – but all this has little chance of working in the long term, if everywhere we go unhealthy food is promoted, advertised and on offer.
The Scottish Government has now posed a question about whether we should make it easier for everyone to make the healthy choice. It’s the right thing to do.
Dr Anna Gryka is policy officer for Obesity Action Scotland