Kevan Christie: Little appetite for serious reform on junk food

The Scottish Government's commitment to limit junk food marketing is to be welcomed although it appears to be short on detail and does little at this stage to target the real bad guys.

Despite various drives to improve healthy eating, the likes of fish and chips remain part of our national cuisine.

Cancer charities, diabetes experts and the like have been quick to spot that the chat around obesity does not involve regulations to restrict multi-buy offers on unhealthy food and drink.

The use of the word “limit” is a long way from “ban” and a casual stroll into any supermarket will see you instantly met with a Mount Rushmore-sized crisp memorial, with onion rings and cheese puffs staring back at you.

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The supermarket giants are adept at side-stepping any kind of so-called limit. Sure, they’ll give kids the odd banana or apple to walk around with, but they will also employ a range of tactics from crisp mountains to “essential” Walnut Whips placed at the checkouts to break the average shopper’s willpower.

To quote their own literature, the Scottish Government will predictably “consult” on a range of actions to deliver a new approach to diet and healthy weight management.

They also plan to progress measures to limit the marketing of products high in fat, sugar and salt which disproportionately contribute to ill health and obesity.

So, that’s a fair chunk of our national cuisine, including tablet, which seems at odds with the desire to promote famous Scottish brands.

However, my point is that the fat epidemic in this country needs serious action and hopefully the Scottish Government’s forthcoming obesity strategy will help families, especially in deprived areas, to make healthier choices than before.

As we reported earlier this week, obese two-year-olds being referred to weight management services, with NHS Lothian spending almost £500k on special programmes for them, could be a worrying sign of things to come.

The time to “consult” has passed, action needs to be taken and the supermarket giants offer a good place to start.

I would bet that anyone walking into their local superstore six months from now will see no noticeable difference with regard to a curbing of junk food marketing – but a lot of chocolate eggs.

According to Cancer Research UK, not only is Scotland one of the heaviest nations in Europe, but we also buy double the amount of food and drink on price promotion compared to shoppers on the Continent.

It’s clear that a more holistic approach is required to tackle obesity which I think hints at exercise and stuffing our faces less.

On this note, last month brought bad news for a category of people that I’ve been able to relate strongly with over the years – the “fat but fit”. Normal blood presssure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels are no longer an assurance of good heart health among the overweight or obese who fall into this category.

As reported in the European Heart Journal, those who are in this group – and they studied health data on more than half a million people in ten European countries including the UK – are 28 per cent more likely to develop heart disease than individuals with similar readings and a healthy bodyweight.

So a visit to the gym for a quick 5k run followed by eight pints and a curry does not give us a “get out of jail free” card. That’s a myth.

The answers are there but to change our nation’s fatalistic culture will need far more punative measures put in place.