Action on obesity: strengthening pathways and blazing new trails

15 May 2024
Obesity Action Scotland (OAS) is poised to complete 10 years of influencing the Scottish obesity landscape next year. I am delighted to come on board at this critical juncture and lead the organisation through its next season of growth and contributions to the country’s obesity response.

In 2018, Scottish government set an ambitious target to halve the proportion of children living with obesity by 2030. However, it is concerning that the childhood obesity rates in the country have increased since then. More so, when under the WHO Global Action Plan on Noncommunicable Diseases, governments have committed to halt the rise in obesity across populations by 2030. Drawing on the wisdom of OAS’ steering group and building on the expertise of my brilliant team, the top priorities for OAS in the coming season include:

  • Securing policy wins to reduce the demand and availability of unhealthy food and drink
  • Leveraging national priorities to tackle the inequalities around overweight and obesity and advance multi-sectoral action on diet and healthy weight
  • Supporting the Scottish Obesity Alliance to strengthen governance, broaden reach and maximise impact.
  • Sparking collaborative action across commercially-driven risk factors of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) for better reach and value-add

There are some immediate opportunities and broader frameworks available to advance these goals, and we would seize them. To begin with, the on-going Scottish Government consultation on regulating promotions of unhealthy food and drink (closing on 21 May) presents opportunities to make your voices heard. One way would be to co-sign this joint civil society letter calling for early and decisive action (please email us at if your organisation would be interested in signing).  

The broader conversations around Fairer Scotland, Ending Childhood Poverty and food system strengthening present specific opportunities to help address the vulnerabilities of children and deprived communities to overweight and obesity. It is disconcerting that the children from the most deprived areas in the country have been at twice the risk for obesity compared to those from the least deprived localities, and OAS would be charting new trails in addressing this stubborn inequality. Commercial actions that deter these efforts would be closely monitored.

Collaboration is central to all our work. This would include close liaison with Scottish Government agencies, with specific out-reach to non-health sectors to promote a whole-of-government response to overweight and obesity across the country. I bring to the role experience working across NCD risk factors and leading the governance of large international civil society coalitions such as the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. In that spirit, we would seek to strengthen collaboration with civil society partners in the obesity, NCD and broader health and development communities and build in sustainability into our initiatives.

Scotland has been a leader on several public health issues. For instance, the country was the first UK nation to ban smoking in restaurants and pubs in 2006, and an early riser globally. It now has the opportunity to similarly exemplify how obesity and healthy weight are addressed holistically in public interest. I look forward to working with all OAS partners in making that a reality through our next decade of action.

Blog written by Dr Shoba John, Obesity Action Scotland’s incoming head.

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