Obesity and Cancer Awareness Week: Portion Size

Obesity is the biggest preventable cause of cancer in the UK after smoking and Scotland is one of the most obese nations in the OECD.

This is bad news as obesity is linked to 13 types of cancer including 2 of the most common; breast and bowel, and 2 of the hardest to treat; pancreatic and oesophageal.
Research shows that in the UK sizes of ready meals and fast foods are increasing, and increasing portion size results in more calories consumed.


For example, a report by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) found an individual chicken pie was 40% larger and a chicken curry with rice was 53% larger compared to 1993.
This has a double-whammy effect on how much we eat as there becomes a tendency to eat larger portions and overestimate the amount that should be eaten, and increasing portion sizes shape public views of what is a normal amount to eat. Yet eliminating large portions from our diet could reduce average daily energy intake among UK adults by 16%.

Packaging of food and drink does not always encourage consumption of portion sizes recommended in the UK. The suggested portion of fruit or vegetable juice is 150ml; however, small cartons usually contain 200ml.

The food industry should consider the following:

  • Introduction of calorie caps, varying container sizes and a greater price differential between large and small portions
  • Adopting ‘front of packet’ food labelling, ensuring that portion sizes are standardised, clearly labelled and easy to understand
  • Promote consumption of appropriate portion sizes by matching size of single portions with the recommended ones, marking on the side of packaging or other clear labelling

As part of Obesity and Cancer Awareness Week we are calling for the Scottish Government tackle growing portion size in the places where we eat out.
Statistics in this post have been taken from our briefing paper entitled ‘OBESITY and PORTION SIZE’, available to download as a pdf.

Obesity and Cancer Awareness Week: Advertising & Marketing

  • Scotland is one of the most obese nations in the OECD
  • 110 tonnes of sugar is bought on special offer in Scotland every day
  • Obesity is the biggest preventable cause of cancer in the UK after smoking
  • Obesity is linked to 13 types of cancer

Facts and evidence highlight the issue, but we must start taking the actions required to halt the rise of obesity and then reduce it across Scotland.
This means tackling the obesogenic environment (the term obesogenic, according to the Collins English Dictionary, means “pertaining to or tending to cause obesity”).
Advertised food and drinks are generally less healthy than those recommended as part of a healthy balanced diet.

In 2014 the UK food industry spent £780m on the advertising and marketing of food and drink and £256m alone was spent on promoting ‘junk food’.

Junk Food Salad Advert

So far, voluntary measures to address marketing and advertising to improve dietary health in Scotland, suggested in the Supporting Healthy Choices framework, have proved to be insufficient.

We are calling on the Scottish Government in Obesity and Cancer Awareness Week to tackle junk food advertising to consumers across all channels, including online and social media platforms so we can start to create healthier environments for everyone in Scotland.

Statistics in this post have been taken from our briefing paper entitled ‘ADVERTISING, MARKETING and OBESITY’ which is available to download as a pdf.

Obesity and Cancer Awareness Week: Price Promotions

Evidence linking obesity and cancer is increasing and it is now known that overweight and obesity is the biggest preventable cause of cancer in the UK after smoking.

Obesity is also linked to 13 types of cancer including 2 of the most common, breast and bowel, and 2 of the hardest to treat, pancreatic and oesophageal.

With this growing body of evidence it is becoming increasingly urgent that we address the factors that are creating an obesogenic environment in Scotland (the term obesogenic, according to the Collins English Dictionary, means “pertaining to or tending to cause obesity”). This means taking action to reduce the promotion of junk food (processed foods high in salt, sugar and fat).

Price Promotion Montage

Price promotions increase the amount of food people buy by about one-fifth. In Scotland 40% of all food and drink purchases are made on price promotion - twice as high as levels seen in other European countries. Researchers from the University of Stirling suggested that price promotions together with advertising were the most salient forms of marketing to young people.

A survey of the impact of food and drink marketing on young people in Scotland found that 74% of promotions were for ‘junk foods’. In fact, 54% of all marketing-prompted-purchases were related to a price promotion with over a third of those (35%) being sugar-sweetened beverages, chocolate or sugar based confectionery.

As evidence of the links between obesity and cancer get stronger we can no longer continue to perpetuate environments that encourage and facilitate unhealthy lifestyles that can lead to overweight and obesity.

As part of Obesity and Cancer Awareness Week we’re calling for the Scottish Government to use regulation to tackle price promotions on junk foods as part of the forthcoming Diet and Obesity Strategy.

Statistics in this post have been taken from our briefing paper entitled ‘OBESITY and PRICE PROMOTIONS’ which is available to download as a pdf.

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?

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