The UK Government has bottled it

19 August 2016

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”.

Castrated and Watered Down
Ten months later it is finally published in a “castrated”, “watered down” version according to those that had seen earlier drafts. It has certainly not accepted all the advice of PHE and is not a world leading strategy – in fact it is now just a plan and is labelled as the “start of a conversation”. The two top actions that PHE (the government’s own expert public health advisors) recommended have been ignored. Restrictions on price promotions and restrictions on advertising and marketing are missing from the plan. What happened to the sure thing we were promised, the comprehensive strategy? Was it industry interference, was it the change in administration, was it post Brexit jitters?

Yes, the plan includes a levy on sugary drinks and plans for industry reformulation but the reformulation will be voluntary with no penalties or incentives to deliver compliance. Its other focus is physical activity. Well, we all know that you can't outrun a bad diet. Whilst physical activity in itself is important to many aspects of physical and mental health, it will not fix our obesity problem. We need to change the food environment in which we live where high calorie foods are marketed to us throughout the day and end up in our shopping baskets due to impossible-to-resist end-of-aisle bargain offers.

This is a weak and pitiful plan that will not address the health challenges we face from our growing waistlines.

Where does this leave us in Scotland? The nature of the comprehensive action needed means that issues are split amongst devolved and reserved matters. For example TV advertising is currently a reserved matter and its absence from the plan means we have no option to tackle this. However there are plenty of opportunities where the Scottish Government could take action such as price promotions, portion size and other advertising and marketing issues.

Scotland Be Brave!
The Scottish Government has been a world leader on other public health issues in the past and we are calling on them once again to demonstrate that leadership in tackling this issue. Introduce bold measures just as Food Standards Scotland is also advising you to. Tackle the “obesogenic environment” we live in, help make it easy for all of us to choose the healthy option and begin to reduce the avoidable burden of care that faces the public services.

Scotland Be Brave!