What to Do to Eat Less Sugar?

Sugar montageThe past few days have seen two sugar stories: one from Scotland and one from England. Although sugar has been talked about for quite some time now, it still makes the news.

In Scotland, Cancer Research UK reported that every day Scots buy 110 tonnes of sugar through promotions of unhealthy food and drinks. Promotions make us buy more and we definitely do not need any more sugar or calories in our diets.

In England, Action on Sugar exposed that many perceived ‘healthy’ cereal brands fail to include the Department of Health endorsed colour-coded labelling at the front of their packs despite some products containing high levels of sugar which would equate to a red label. How can we make a healthy choice if we don’t know what is in the food we buy?

As a result of the above and more, we eat almost 3 times the maximum recommended amount of sugar. And it is not good for us. So, what can we do about it?
What comes to mind first is: stop eating so much sugar! Easy to say, very difficult to do. It is almost impossible to resist cheap, extra, moreish treats that are present absolutely everywhere and all the time. It is hard to say no to such temptations. What is easier to do, is to eliminate the temptations. Some do it by excluding sugary foods and drinks from their weekly shop. Yet, they still have to resist them at work, schools, petrol stations, cafes, restaurants, train stations, airports, etc.
What is easier is to create an environment that does not tempt. We can do it by stopping promotions on unhealthy foods and drinks and stopping adverts for them. Imagine how different your diet could be if you did not see, hear and think about unhealthy food so many times a day. How different could your diet be if supermarkets did not discount and put the sugary, fatty and salty products right in front of you? You could actually buy only what you meant to buy.
New action to help us improve diet and health is needed. The Scottish Government is soon to publish a new Diet and Obesity Strategy. Let’s hope that it will have brave and responsible actions to create a healthy world for Scots.


The Childhood Obesity Plan – One Year On

Childhood Obesity Plan Front CoverOne full year has passed since the UK Childhood Obesity Plan (COP) was quietly published.

At the time of publication we were part of the dismayed, disappointed response made by a number of public health organisations. Organisations that had been promised a world leading, comprehensive strategy instead received a watered down plan with promises of a further “conversation”.

The COP did contain some valuable commitments including a sugar reformulation programme with industry, revisions of the nutrient profile model and the previously announced Soft Drinks Industry Levy. However it fell short by not tackling the top priorities, recommended to them by Pubic Health England, including price promotions and advertising and marketing of unhealthy foods.

And what of the promised “conversation”?
Well, there has been little indication that the UK Government is ready to listen to the requests for further action on the obesogenic environment.

The UK position remains important to Scotland as there are areas of reserved powers that influence our diet, not least TV advertising. Evidence tells us the current broadcast restrictions do not go far enough. Experts from across the world, including WHO, recommend restricting advertising of unhealthy foods, particularly to children. In fact there are many countries around the world who have already taken stronger action than the UK.

Today the Obesity Health Alliance published a report card on the UK Government’s Childhood Obesity Plan which concluded “must try harder”. With a lack of action to tackle advertising “it is scraping along with a C grade rather than topping the class with an A star”.

Read their report in full. 

The conversation on TV and online advertising of unhealthy foods needs to progress with urgency.

We have the opportunity in Scotland to create a comprehensive, world-leading strategy that plugs those gaps and gives everyone in Scotland a chance at a healthier life.

A Scottish Government consultation document on diet and obesity is imminent. We must make sure the bold and ambitious actions needed to change the current food environment are front and central.

It Takes a Village to Tackle Childhood Obesity

Or in this case a city: the city of Amsterdam.

Obesity Action Scotland has recently returned from a study trip to Amsterdam where our hosts were the public health department of the city of Amsterdam. Amsterdam is the first area in the world to see a decrease in rates of childhood obesity across all socio-economic groups. A unique and inspiring achievement given that in Scotland we are seeing a widening inequalities gap.

What is the secret of their success? What did we see while we were there?

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Taking Inspiration from the Nordic Approach

SP PresentationsOver the past 10 years the Nordic governments have collectively taken a new approach that seeks to change the food culture and consumption patterns of their people.

On Wednesday 14th June, the Scottish Parliament heard from a Dane who works for the Nordic Council of Ministers about “New Nordic Food”. The event titled ‘Food: a solution to a health crisis’ was organised by Obesity Action Scotland with the Scottish Food Coalition.
Liam McArthur MSP sponsored the event and gave a warm and clever introduction. Among the guests were MSPs, Nourish, RSPB, Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens, Cancer Research UK, Alcohol Focus Scotland, SPICe, Food Standards Scotland, NHS Health Scotland, Rowett Institute, Glasgow University and many others.
Mads Frederik Fischer-Moller who is a Senior Advisor on Food, provided illuminating views on Nordic food culture, nutrition policy and the impact of food programmes and activities in the Nordic Countries. The aim was to solve the problem of poor diet and to create a food culture and identity for Nordic food.
Government policies played a key role in promoting a new and more sustainable Nordic cuisine to international fame but others played their part including world renowned chefs and the private sector.
Through public-private partnerships, product innovations and reformulation these new ideas are being incorporated in everyday life in the Nordic countries.

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Elections, Elections, Elections!

Polling StationIt seems that we are visiting our local polling stations with some degree of regularity over the past few years and the most recent result of the general Election has still to fully play itself out.

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A Parent Shares Their School Meals Experience

School Meals

Just over a year ago I decided to volunteer as a parent helper in my child's school.

Along with photocopying and helping with craft projects and classroom resources, one of my jobs is to oversee lunch in the dining hall. This has been the most eye opening experience of my life because I see what the children eat and do not eat every day.

All pupils must clear away their plates when finished their meal. They do this at a station at the end of the dining room, which has soapy water buckets for cutlery, bins for general waste and food. An adult always oversees what the children are disposing of. If we feel a child has not eaten enough we will often send them back to their table to try and eat some more.

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Amsterdam’s Success in Tackling Childhood Obesity

AmsterdamTxtDo you want to be inspired?

Here is some good news: Amsterdam has been successful in tackling childhood obesity!

They launched the ‘Amsterdam Healthy Weight Programme’ and the whole city managed to reduce the total number of overweight and obese children by 10% within the first two years.
This means 2000 fewer overweight children.

Moreover, the programme proved especially successful for children from low socioeconomic backgrounds. 

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Put the Health of Young People First

JanUary2017In 2017, Scotland’s young people suffer from obesity more than any generation before them. Dr Anna Strachan, Policy Officer for Obesity Action Scotland, calls for urgent action to make the healthy choice the easy choice.

Monday 9th January marks the start of National Obesity Awareness Week. Organisations and companies from across the UK are coming together to invite everyone to ‘Do something good for JanUary’. Whether it’s cooking more healthily, avoiding snacks or being a little more physically active, the aim is to make a healthy New Year’s resolution now!

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Dreaming About the 21st Century Food Policy: Unthinkable!

Girl with an apple

Smoke-free buses, hospitals, or pubs were a wild, unthinkable idea forty years ago. Yet, today the opposite is unthinkable. Big dreams change the world.

The 12th of December 2016 was a day to dream big at the 2016 City Food Symposium in London. A day of reflection on the past and the future of food policy, over thirty speakers, reasons to be depressed, reasons to be cheerful, effortless networking, comedy, drama, stories of lost battles and of success, all concluded with a festive cup of mulled wine.

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World Obesity Day – Action vs. Talking


Tuesday 11th October 2016 marked World Obesity Day. It was a day to take stock and assess the situation we are currently in, where 29% of adults and 15% of children in Scotland are obese and to look at the vision of universal healthy lifestyles and consider: how can we get there?
With adult obesity rates at unacceptable levels and a growing gap in obesity related to inequalities, we must be serious about how we tackle the obesity crisis.

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Obesity, Physical Activity and Cancer

Map of a run round London

What do obesity and physical inactivity have in common?
If you said that they both sound unhealthy, you'd be right: they are serious cancer risks.

In fact, they increase the risk of many cancers: breast, bowel, prostate, uterus, liver, pancreas and others.

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Body Fatness and Cancer

Annie AndersonGuest Blog: Professor Annie S. Anderson

For decades cancer has been associated with weight loss and under nutrition. Cancer survivors still report health care staff being concerned if they report a decreased body weight – even if this is due to intentional weight loss.

Today's paper from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) provides a timely reminder about why we need to take the growing evidence on excess body fat and the opportunity for cancer risk reduction seriously.

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The UK Government has bottled it


The UK Government has bottled it. They have backed out of the bold action needed to tackle the obesity epidemic within the UK. How did we get here? How did such a long wait in anticipation become such a frustrating disappointment?

In October 2015 the chief executive of PHE Duncan Selbie was being grilled by the UK Health Select Committee on PHE evidence on the actions needed to tackle sugar consumption. Duncan Selbie said at the time that this was a “marvellous moment” that Government was accepting PHE advice and the outcome would be a childhood obesity strategy that will work. “One which doesn’t exist in the world and we are on the cusp of having” were his exact words. The Heath Secretary and Prime Minister promised a “game-changing strategy” to tackle a “national emergency”.

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Walking round Italy in speedy fashion!

Rome photograph




We made it!

Two weeks ago we ‘arrived’ in Rome after our big walk round Italy. Logging our respective steps (all 1,691,922 of them!) got us round Italy and into Rome much faster than the 100 days we had allowed.

So perhaps the next walking challenge needs to be, well, more challenging!
We’ve still to arrange our Mediterranean feast to celebrate, but maybe we should use this as a carrot for our next walking adventure?
We are now embarking on a grand tour of Poland – home country of our Policy Officer, Anna.

A Guideline is Just a Guideline

Brazil Dietary Guidelines Report Cover

University of Edinburgh logo“Values are as important as evidence. Do we need a randomised control trial to tell us that eating food together is a good idea?”

A striking statement that stimulated reflection from the audience at a recent event we were delighted to co-host with the University of Edinburgh.

The event saw two representatives from Brazil, who were instrumental in the creation of the recently published Brazilian dietary guidelines, speak about the journey from concept to published dietary guidelines. A process filled with challenges, not least opposition from industry, but also from fellow nutritionists who were initially reluctant to see change.

The distinct and ground breaking aspect of the Brazilian work has been the move away from nutrient based guidelines to ones based on real meals. They used the ‘NOVA system’ which classifies foods according to the extent of processing involved.

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Tackling Obesity: What we learned from nutrition labelling research

Nutrition label montage

At the end of June we co-hosted a ‘meeting-of-the-minds’ at the Psychology Department of Stirling University. The event aimed at developing multidisciplinary understanding and communication between stakeholders who are working to tackle obesity in Scotland.

The impact of nutritional labelling on food purchasing and consumption behaviour was the topic of the day. Attendees also found out about the interests and motivations of different stakeholders and had a chance to learn from the experience of experts. The meeting was designed to promote networking and help to shape communication and knowledge sharing within the proposed alliance to tackle obesity in Scotland.

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Obesity Alliance - Next Steps

Obesity Alliance logo

After our initial meeting in April, which supported the creation of an alliance to tackle obesity in Scotland, we have made steady progress. 

A small ‘planning group’ consisting of representatives from across the spectrum of potential alliance members e.g. third sector, public sector and academia will now form and shape the Alliance.

The initial role of this group is to draft proposals to present to the wider Alliance partners, opening discussion on; alliance purpose, structure, outline communications plan and potential priority issues.

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Meet Kirsty, the Holyrood Baby

Kirsty the Holyrood Baby

Have you met the Holyrood Baby?

A creation of Holyrood magazine, the Holyrood Baby, named Kirsty, emerged during the 2014 referendum when Nicola Sturgeon asked us to imagine a 'Kirsty' and what kind of Scotland we wanted her to grow up in. Born on 12th may 2016, Kirsty is growing up in the real Scotland and facing the same challenges that confront all newborn children in Scotland today.

We recently wrote about the future prospects for Kirsty in Holyrood magazine; she has an uncertain future in an environment that encourages weight gain and seems to accept it as inevitable.

Is this the kind of Scotland we want Kirsty to grow up in?

What will you do to help change it?

Is Our Obesity Epidemic as Bad as it Gets?

Obesity Action Scotland: the Chair's Blog

It is now a year since Obesity Action Scotland arrived on the scene.

A creature of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and Faculties in Scotland, hosted by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow and staffed by a dedicated 4 people, it has made an early and influential impact on approaches to preventing obesity in Scotland. 

The unit’s lead, Lorraine Tulloch, wrote recently about Kirsty, the Holyrood Baby, a creation of Holyrood magazine. This baby has an uncertain future in an environment that encourages weight gain and seems to accept it as inevitable. This future should not be the most likely outcome for babies that we are welcoming into the world in Scotland.

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Tackling Obesity: What can we learn from Nutrition Labelling Research?

On Thursday we’ll be attending a ‘meeting-of-the-minds’ event at Stirling University, aimed at developing multidisciplinary understanding and communication between stakeholders who are working to tackle obesity in Scotland.
The event will focus on nutritional labelling and we’re looking forward to finding out more about the interests and motivations of different stakeholders working in the obesity field.
We will be leading workshops at the event to promote knowledge sharing and joint working to achieve greater success in tackling obesity.

University of Stirling logo


What's Next for Evidence Based Policy Planning?

We’ll be co-facilitating a workshop on obesity next week at the University of Glasgow as part of a one-day conference: 
Evidence for the Future - What's next for evidence based policy planning? 
The keynote speaker is Dr Catherine Calderwood, Chief Medical Officer for Scotland, and the event will explore the healthcare challenges facing us and discuss collaborative approaches to address these.
The workshops are intended to promote discussion around healthcare challenges, build on best practice and the lessons learned to gain new insights into how research can better support stakeholders in policy development and implementation for the benefit the health of communities across Scotland.
The line-up of speakers and facilitators looks really exciting and we’re delighted to have been invited to be part of the event.
We’re looking forward to learning about the ‘best and worst’ experiences of others to develop future collaborations.
Event info: http://bit.ly/22MoFai

The event is free but you need to register.

University of Glasgow logo

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