Diet & obesity strategy – Who’s afraid of regulation?

Last week, the British Retail Consortium (representing all the major supermarkets) called on the government to go beyond voluntary measures and change the obesogenic food environment through regulation. Funnily enough, they did exactly the same this time last year, in response to the UK Government’s rather weak childhood obesity strategy. At the same time, major food manufacturers like Unilever and Mars claim that they also want to tackle obesity through reformulation, portion size and advice to customers.


So as the Scottish Government prepares to issue its own long-awaited diet and obesity strategy, they have an open invitation from the food industry to be bold. It’s twelve years since anti-smoking legislation went through Holyrood. There was a moment during that campaign when the ban became possible. The mood had changed – both inside Holyrood and ‘out there’. Jack McConnell and Andy Kerr seized that moment, in the face of vocal opposition from the industry and from pro-tobacco lobby groups.


There’s no vocal support for the obesogenic environment, no well-resourced ‘Doughnut’ group arguing for the human right to cake. There’s a deafening consensus that obesity is bad for health, bad for social justice, bad for the economy. There’s overwhelming agreement that ‘environment trumps intention’: that if it’s easier and cheaper to buy high fat sugar and salt food, and harder and dearer to buy healthier alternatives, then it’s much harder for people to do the right thing.


So this time round: could we please not have a strategy which majors on ‘educating the public’ (we’re very well-educated on this topic already), or on exercise; or a strategy which focuses on voluntary codes of practice; or a strategy which concentrates on retail when so much heavy lifting is also needed in the out of home food environment.


Can we please have a strategy which (like the smoking ban) sends an unambiguous message and changes the environment for good?