A manifesto to support healthy weight for all in Scotland

26 June 2024
Creating a population level shift in healthy diet and weight outcomes is a mission that requires action at all levels of governance, including from both the UK and Scottish Parliaments. At Obesity Action Scotland we propose evidence-based interventions policymakers in Scotland have the power to act on. But what are the areas that need further support from UK leaders? Read on to learn more about our healthy weight manifesto for Scotland’s Members of UK Parliament (MPs), created in partnership with the Obesity Health Alliance.

Prioritise children’s health

In 2018, the UK Government set a national ambition to halve rates of childhood obesity by 2030 and published a new strategy to help deliver it. Despite a number of cross-sector policies being proposed, very few made it to implementation. This has been the case for the implementation of policies and plans to protect children from junk food advertising on TV and online. Given the extensive evidence showing the negative effects of such adverts on children’s health, such measures would be hugely beneficial to children and young people across the UK. So far, plans in this area have been continuously delayed. We see this as vital to protect healthy diet and weight outcomes for children and encourage all MPs to ensure implementation is delivered. 

Related to this, a second policy we view as necessary to protect children’s health is the restriction of misleading health claims on unhealthy food and drink packaging. This is a common marketing tactic used by food companies to attract customers and can include labels such as ‘no added sugar’ and ‘reduced fat’. One piece of research showed that over half of products that carry these features in the UK contain excessive amounts of fat, sugar and/or salt. We hold the position that children and parents should be free from the influence of all marketing that encourages purchasing of health-harming products.

Build on what works

A positive development in recent healthy weight policy was the launch of the Soft Drinks Industry Levy (SDIL) across the UK in 2018. The levy applies to all UK-produced or imported soft drink products containing added sugar which acts as a prompt to the drinks industry to reformulate towards lower sugar contents. So far, evidence suggests it has been a success, associating the levy with a significant reduction in sugar sales via soft drinks, a reduction in obesity rates in young girls, and a drop in adolescent tooth extractions. Yet this is only one drink product in one segment of the market. In order to maximise potential improvements to public health, further levies should be introduced on other harmful food and drink products that can prompt wide-scale production of healthy alternatives.

Another way our leaders can learn from existing practices is to look to other healthy weight policies taking place around the UK and internationally. For example, countries in South America have made great strides in delivering evidence-based obesity prevention policies that target multiple levels of the food environment. It is important that we maintain a focus on the successes and failures of all relevant intervention examples to ensure best practice in our own policies moving forward.

Support devolved action

It is key that Scotland’s MPs actively support the delivery of diet and weight commitments already made by the Scottish Government. The Scottish Government’s 2018 diet and healthy weight delivery plan put forward a number of useful measures that have great potential to improve public health outcomes. The plan includes action to progress a code of practice for local authorities to restrict unhealthy food advertising outdoors; something that has now been implemented by many local councils across England. Given what we know about the effects of unhealthy food and drink advertising on children’s health, this is a promising measure that policymakers should get off the ground urgently. The plan also committed to consult on restricting promotions of unhealthy products in retail environments. Having recently held a final consultation on the details of these regulations, it is now expected that the policy will be laid before the Scottish Parliament in 2025 and we advocate for its full implementation without any further delay.

Elsewhere, the Scottish Government has the power to act on planning which is a promising area for improving food environments and, subsequently, population health outcomes. Scotland’s National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4) states that where new development proposals are likely to have a significant adverse effect on health, they will not be supported. This offers an opportunity to leverage NPF4 so that it enables equitable access to healthy diets and mandates the Scottish Government’s out of home action plan to favour healthy outlets.

We also encourage policymakers to ensure the upcoming Public Health Framework for Scotland is embedded in a multi-sectoral approach and includes measurable indicators for diet and weight, with improvements to healthy weight outcomes at the forefront.

Finally, the Scottish Government’s Good Food Nation (GFN) Act has the potential to transform Scotland’s entire food system, including its impact on health outcomes. A National GFN plan has now been published with local plans for councils and health boards expected in the next couple of years. The Act provides a unique opportunity to take a whole of society approach to food, improving the way it is grown, produced, and consumed. It is vital we see ongoing political will and commitment in order to fully reap the benefits. We encourage our leaders to ensure GFN Plans, at national and local levels, can help achieve healthy diets through improved provisions and use of appropriate indicators.

Read our manifesto for healthy weight here