Restricting promotion of food and drink high in sugar

Scottish Government launches consultation

27 February, 2024 / infocus
 Will Peakin  

The public is being asked for views on proposals to restrict the promotion of food and drink high in fat, sugar and salt.

The consultation, which will run for 12 weeks until 21 May, will outline the detail of proposed regulations aimed at creating a food environment which better supports healthier choices.

Proposals include restricting multi-buys, unlimited refills or selling at locations such as at checkouts and front of store.

The consultation is a welcome move to target the heavy promotion of unhealthy food

Geoff Ogle

Feedback on the proposals will help to inform regulations to be laid before the Scottish Parliament, subject to the outcome of the consultation.

Jenni Minto, the Public Health Minister, said: “Improving health and supporting people to eat well and have a healthy weight is a public health priority.  We need to address the high levels of excess weight, obesity and poor diet we know are contributing to worsening trends in Scotland’s health. The association between these issues and health outcomes such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers has been established for some time. 

“We want to ensure Scotland is a place where we eat well and have a healthy weight. The Scottish Government is committed to restricting promotions of foods high in fat, sugar or salt at the point of purchase as research shows this is when people make decisions about what and how much to buy, for themselves and their families.

“This consultation, together with our Diet and Healthy Weight Delivery Plan, demonstrates the ambitious and wide-ranging action we believe is needed to address this challenge, and support improvements in diet and health and wellbeing  in Scotland.

“The consultation will run in parallel with an extensive programme of inclusive stakeholder engagement, to improve the process of developing, implementing and reviewing regulations to meet our long-term public health and economic aims.”

Public Health Scotland and Food Standards Scotland welcomed the consultation. The organisations have published a joint briefing paper calling for ambitious action to transform Scotland’s food environment into one that supports and prioritises health.

The briefing highlights that Scotland is far from meeting its healthy eating goals and the direct impact this has on the health of the population, particularly on children living in less affluent areas who are more likely to be exposed to unhealthy food on their high streets and where childhood obesity rates are highest.

It notes that improvements to the food environment, including increasing the number of healthy foods on promotion, will make it easier for people to access healthier options and ultimately improve the health of people in Scotland.

Paul Johnston, Chief Executive of Public Health Scotland, said: “Nutritious food is essential for our health but our chances of accessing healthy food depend strongly on where we live. In Scotland, people living in communities associated with poverty, are less likely to have access to affordable, healthy food and are more likely to experience poor health as a result.

“Cost-of-living pressures have put healthier options out of reach for many. Very often, the food that is most accessible and heavily promoted are those most damaging to our health.

“We must ensure that eating well is the easiest thing to do – not the hardest. It’s only through direct action, like addressing marketing behaviours on unhealthy food, that we can improve Scotland’s health and reduce the widening health inequalities we are experiencing.

“We welcome the Scottish Government’s consultation as an important opportunity to drive change, a turning point to creating a food system for the people of Scotland that puts health as the number one priority.”

Geoff Ogle, Chief Executive of Food Standards Scotland, said: “The Scottish Government’s consultation is a welcome move to target the heavy promotion of unhealthy food and is needed to rebalance our food environment and help address this critical public health issue.

“Promotions and marketing of unhealthy foods are a major part of our food environment and now more than ever what surrounds us, shapes us. We know that promotions are skewed towards these unhealthy options and can encourage us to buy more than we intended to. If now is not the time to take action, when is? When levels of over-weight and obesity reach 85 per cent from the current two thirds of the adult population? ‘Not now’ cannot be an argument any longer.

“We can’t rely on personal responsibility alone to change our eating habits any longer: that approach has not worked for at least forty years and won’t work now. And we have had significant increases in preventable diseases and higher costs to the NHS. Personal responsibility is a component, but it’s not the solution. We need to rebalance our food environment to support healthier options.”

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