Health visitors will encourage portion control and stage “weight interventions” as part of the Scottish Government’s preventative approach to tackling childhood obesity.
The Scottish Government’s strategy, which was launched at Tynecastle Stadium in Edinburgh yesterday, supports calls for a ban on TV and radio advertising of unhealthy food before the 9pm watershed in a bid to drive down the nation’s obesity levels which currently sit at 30 per cent.
Further steps include providing more than £40 million for almost 100,000 weight management schemes for people who have or are at risk of Type 2 diabetes.
Medical professionals and health charities said the new strategy would be a step forward in tackling Scotland’s problem with obesity, which is linked to 13 types of cancer.
However, small businesses warned the new proposals could be “challenging and costly” to implement, with political opponents and campaigners raising concerns of a “nanny state intervention”.
Public Health Minister Aileen Campbell launched the consultation which will run until 31 January on ambitious plans to help people lose weight.
She said: “Obesity significantly increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, cancer cardiovascular disease and depression. Simply put, it’s harming the people of Scotland. It also puts pressure on the NHS, other public services and our economy.
“That is why we need commitment and action from everyone across all sectors and at all levels including government, citizens, the public sector and businesses right across the country.
“We are putting forward a package of bold measures designed to help people make healthier choices, empower personal change and show real leadership. Now we need people who live, work and consume food and drink in Scotland to tell us what they think.”
Gregor McNie, Cancer Research UK’s senior public affairs manager in Scotland, welcomed “a range of bold proposals” in the Government’s consultation.
He said: “In tackling multi-buy offers on junk food, regulation will be crucial. Multi-buy offers on alcohol are already regulated in Scotland and the same thing must be done for junk food. Scotland has been in the grip of an obesity epidemic for too long.”
Further proposals are a scheme for restaurants and takeaways including calorie labelling and portion size and calorie cap options which will be published by next summer and £200,000 funding over the next three year to help small and medium sized food businesses make healthier products.
Andy Willox, the Federation of Small Businesses’ (FSB) Scottish policy convener, warned of the impact of potential changes on firms such as fishmongers, takeaways, delis, corner-shops and bakers.
He said: “These proposals could have huge implications for Scotland’s independent food businesses, many of whom already face spiralling overheads and challenging competition.
“Firms of this sort have faced a slew of recent regulatory changes. As a consequence, many Scottish businesses would argue that it can be challenging and costly to keep up with Holyrood’s demands.”
The consultation document states temporary price promotions are also under consideration and that junk foods could be defined by the current nutrient scoring model, by the levels of substances such as sugar or saturated fat or by the calorie level.
David Thomson, chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation Scotland, warned that restricing promotions will hit the poorest shoppers the hardest at a time when all customers are seeing increases to the cost of their weekly shopping basket.
He added: “The regulation of promotions within retail premises is a hugely complicated area and could create unfair disadvantage to different types of products.
“We would urge Scottish Government to consult widely and to gather evidence on the financial, practical and legal implications for businesses and consumers before seeking to change the law.”
Prevention in the early years will also be a focus with health visitors engaging with families to promote healthy eating.
Dr Peter Bennie, chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) Scotland, said: “Almost every doctor working in the NHS today will be dealing with patients who are overweight or obese.
“The scale of the challenge facing Scotland means that we need bold and comprehensive action across every part of society in Scotland if we are to successfully reduce levels of overweight and obesity in future years.”
Shadow Health Secretary, Miles Briggs MSP, said that the suggested involvement of health visitors who are named persons will also raise fears that the strategy risks being perceived as a nanny state intervention.
He said: “While it is right for the Scottish Government to take a lead on tackling obesity, restaurants and cafes will have legitimate concerns about the potential extra and damaging regulatory burdens they could face in relation to portion control.
“We will continue to argue that the emphasis must remain on education and personal responsibility.”
He added: “I welcome the Scottish Government’s intentions in launching this consultation on a new diet and obesity strategy for Scotland.
“But it cannot come soon enough as the SNP’s record on diet and obesity is very poor. Obesity is a massive public health challenge.
“Only 20% of adults get their 5 a day, and a shocking 13% of children. An even lower 11% of 10-11 year olds are meeting the recommended daily level of physical exercise.”
Labour’s Colin Smyth said the plan is “overdue” but welcomed it, adding: “The obesity crisis is the biggest public health challenge facing Scotland and one that sadly too often impacts on our most deprived communities.
“Two thirds of adults overweight, over a quarter of children, the worst rates in the UK and among the worst anywhere in the world. It’s clear the current obesity routemap has not met its milestones and radical action is needed.”
He pressed Ms Campbell to commit that the consultation would not be used to “water down tough regulation”.
Ms Campbell said there was “no intention” for the government to backtrack on regulation.