How can we make the healthy choice the easy choice in Scotland?

The Scottish Government’s consultation on their draft Diet and Obesity Strategy – now known as ‘A Healthier Future – Action and Ambitions on Diet, Activity and Healthy Weight’ – closes today. Like most of our colleagues in the third-sector, we at Nourish are broadly supportive of the draft Strategy proposed by the Government, but deem it does not go quite far enough to make the healthy choice the easy choice in Scotland.

‘A Healthier Future’ encouragingly states its ambition to focus less on individual behaviour and more on the wider environment in which food choices are made. However, given the scale of the problem, we need to go even further than the measures proposed. Bold action is needed to transform our whole food environment, and make the healthy choice the easy choice for everyone in Scotland.

Food Standards Scotland (FSS) leaves no doubt: “Given clear evidence of lack of progress towards our Scottish Dietary Goals, together with current and projected unsustainable prevalence of overweight and obesity, maintaining the status quo is not an option.”

We need to be clear about our destination. FSS expects “as many as 40% of us being obese by 2030.” Is this the society we want to be? If not, we need to change the system and the norms that shape our lifestyle and food choices. Tweaks in the margins won’t do. We need to put an end to the laissez-faire that has let the food industry create our obesogenic food environment. We need to set ourselves binding targets, with strong monitoring and accountability mechanisms, and put long-term commitments in place. The exemplary work on smoking and on climate change shows what can be achieved if there is political commitment combined with a comprehensive approach and effective monitoring.

As we see it, the four pillars that must form the backbone of our action on obesity are:colourful vegetables

  1. Enabling healthy diets

Reducing sugar, fats, and salt intake is important but not enough. People in Scotland are eating much too few fruit, vegetables, and whole grains, therefore lacking essential fibre and micronutrients, and too little oily fish, critical source of omega 3. We should be aiming for John Boyd-Orr’s ‘gold standard of nutrition’ which he defined in 1936: “the standard is not just to provide a diet which will keep people alive, but a diet which will keep people in health; and the standard of health adopted is a state of well-being such that no improvement could be effected by a change in the diet.”

This Strategy must do more to reverse the bias towards unhealthy food in our food environment. And the Scottish Government should commit to support initiatives such as community food projects or Peas Please, which are changing norms and environments to help everyone eat healthily.

The poorest in society face the double burden of poverty and ill health. Actions to enable healthy diets should be focused on those most in need.

  1. Transforming our food environment

Junk food promotion

A Healthier Future falls well short of bringing the real shift urgently needed by our health. Nourish wants to see a commitment to a blanket ban on price and non-monetary promotions on unhealthy foods and drinks. Stricter action is also needed on advertising to protect children and adults alike from the constant exposure of advertising for products that we should not be eating as frequently or abundantly as we are told by the industry. Compulsory reformulation to reduce unhealthy contents and add fibre and micronutrients to our food is long overdue.

The Government should demonstrate its commitment to changing the food environment by dedicating a similar or higher level of investment for population-wide, preventative measures as for individual measures such as the weight management services.

  1. Taking a whole-of-government, whole-of-society approach

Public health must be a priority for all departments of the Government. Scottish agriculture, fisheries, and food sectors need to measure success  by looking at the Good Food Nation objectives. Narrowing health inequalities must be a key priority not just for Public Health and Social Justice, but also Planning and Industrial Strategy for example. This will need leadership from the highest level of Government to join the dots and build consensus.

The Good Food Nation Bill provides a key opportunity to develop a cross-cutting framework for advancing sustainability, fairness, and health in the food system. We at Nourish, with partners in the Scottish Food Coalition, have been working hard to engage people and communities in Scotland with the Good Food Nation agenda. We will soon be launching our Kitchen Table Talks toolkit, to support groups across Scotland to engage with food issues and share their views on key priorities for action. If the Scottish Government is serious about building a “whole nation movement” as they state in ‘A Healthier Future’, we strongly encourage them to support these efforts through a broad and inclusive consultation process on the Good Food Nation Bill.

Public sector leadership is key. Public food procurement need to be aligned with the Scottish Dietary Goals. Public institutions must lead by example in healthy workforce practice, and nutrition must become central in social and health care thinking.

  1. Setting a robust framework for action

The scale and urgency of the obesity crisis calls for bold action that is embedded in a robust framework of monitoring, progress reporting, and accountability. Climate change action has demonstrated the power of legally binding targets to spur action in both private and public sectors and build public support. The Scottish Government should set itself binding targets for improvements on meeting the Scottish Dietary Goals and obesity and diabetes type 2 reduction. Change should be monitored as part of a comprehensive accountability and reporting process established through the Good Food Nation Bill.

Read our full consultation response here.

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