Obesity epidemic getting worse as Scots refuse to eat healthier diets

Herald Scotland, by Helen McArdle

Targets to cut junk food food from Scotland’s diet and get Scots to eat more healthily have been “consistently missed for over 17 years”, new research has revealed.

According to the latest figures, there is little sign that education and public health campaigns have had any impact on eating habits with levels of obesity actually increasing.

However, the head of Scotland’s food watchdog said he believed there was a growing consensus in public and political opinion that a “tipping point” was being reached in the battle against obesity, and that a failure to reverse the crisis would eventually “cripple the NHS”.

The number of people living in Scotland with Type 2 diabetes has increased by 29 per cent since 2010, to more than 289,000, according to figures published today.

Being overweight or obese is the single biggest risk factor for developing the disease, which can lead to blindness and amputations.

Geoff Ogle, chief executive of Food Standards Scotland, said: “Diabetes is not a good use of health spending as it’s preventable, but we’ve got projections of it going up by something like 40 per cent.

“Any country will not cope with that level of obesity. So it’s not just a health issue, it’s increasingly becoming an economic one.”

Two out of three people are overweight or obese, including 29per cent of children.

Besides diabetes, obesity increases the risk of 13 types of cancer including two of the most common – breast and bowel – and three of the hardest to treat, pancreatic, oesophageal and bladder cancer.

Prevalence is highest in deprived communities, where people also tend to consume diets higher in sugar, salt and fat and lower in fibre, fruit and vegetables.

It comes as a hard-hitting report by Food Standards Scotland (FSS) revealed that the only significant change in the Scottish diet since 2010 had been a 29 per cent drop in the volume of regular soft drinks purchased in Scotland, as shoppers increasingly switch to low-calorie diet alternatives.

However, this reduction in sugar intake has been almost completely offset by static or increasing consumption of snack foods such as biscuits, cakes, chocolate , puddings and desserts – including a 23.5 per cent increase in demand for treats such as choc-ices.

Sales of calorie-laden savoury snacks such as crisps also rose 7.9 per cent between 2010 and 2016, according to research by the watchdog.

Mr Ogle added: “These results are disappointing but unfortunately not unexpected. For diets to change we need to see price promotions rebalanced and shoppers encouraged to buy healthier foods with less sugar, fat and salt, by making these more affordable.

“What is particularly disappointing is seeing the reduction of sugar in soft drinks being negated by increased sugar purchase from other food products.”

Despite repeated efforts at encouraging people to improve their diets, Scots are still only consuming half the amount of daily fibre recommended and a woeful 34g a week of oil-rich fish compared to a target of 140g.

The “five-a-day” mantra for fruit and vegetables remains unmet, with the average Scot consuming just 3.2 portions daily, while the typical of intake of sugar is nearly three times higher than it should be.

The percentage of daily calories from saturated fat is also 37 per cent higher than recommended.

Heather Peace, Head of Public Health Nutrition at FSS, said: “We don’t see ourselves getting to these goals any time soon. It’s stuck. We need something bigger to do that. But there does appear to be an appetite in the population to do those things.”

A survey by FSS found that 66 per cent of people backed proposals by the Scottish Government for cafes and restaurants to display calorie information on menus.

However, support for other key planks in the Government’s obesity strategy is more muted with 49 per cent in favour of banning special offers on junk food and 43 per cent supporting a reduction in portion sizes for snacks such as crisps, chocolate bars and muffins.

For the first time, the watchdog also calculated the average weekly calorie load from alcohol in Scotland.

Among Scots who drink, they found that a typical man is consuming 1,100 calories a week from alcohol – equivalent to eight pints of lager – while women are taking in 810 calories, equivalent to nearly one and a half bottles of wine.

Heather Peace, Head of Public Health Nutrition at FSS, said she believed it “would help” to add calorie labelling to alcoholic drinks, especially to curb the intake among young women.

Public Health Minister Aileen Campbell said: “These reports provide yet more evidence that we must take a bold approach to tackling Scotland’s diet and obesity problem, which is why we are developing an ambitious and daring innovative strategy.”