Bold Commitments Needed to Tackle Obesity

A group of leading experts has urged all levels of Government to take bold, committed action to change Scotland’s diet including

  • restricting marketing and promotions,
  • reducing sugar and fat content of foods,
  • pricing measures such as a sugar tax
  • improving labelling of foods bought in shops and restaurants

Today Food Standards Scotland publishes a Situation Report “The Scottish Diet: It needs to change”[i].  The report highlights that the Scottish diet is too high in calories, fats, sugars and salt, and too low in fibre, fruit and vegetables. Obesity Action Scotland calls for bold, committed action across all levels of Government to ensure we see the significant changes in dietary patterns that is needed.

The diet of the Scottish population has changed little in the last fifteen years and poor eating patterns are ingrained.  Figures from FSS also indicate that most Scots think their diet is healthier than it actually is. That is the immediate challenge.

Rates of overweight and obesity in Scotland are unacceptably high.  In the adult population two out of three Scottish adults are overweight or obese.  This makes people ill and costs the NHS and the wider economy.  Action to turn the tide on rates of overweight and obesity needs to be urgent and focussed. 

In Scotland more than 14%[ii] of adult’s and nearly 16%[iii] of children’s daily energy intake comes from sugar. This is three times the new recommended daily intake as agreed by Food Standards Scotland today (5%)[iv]. This trend is still well off course, and requires urgent action.

Even drinking one 330ml can of a typical sugar sweetened beverage can take consumers over the daily recommended limit.  An adult’s maximum daily recommended intake of free sugar is 30g (less for children 19g or 24g depending on age).  A recent survey indicated 79% of sugar sweetened fizzy drinks contained more than the new recommended daily adult intake of free sugar.[v]

Reducing our consumption of sugar and fat is a significant challenge that will take more than advice and encouragement.  A package of measures must be introduced that includes

  • restricting marketing and promotions,
  • reducing sugar and fat content of foods,
  • pricing measures such as a sugar tax
  • improving labelling of foods bought in shops and restaurants

Programme Lead for Obesity Action Scotland Lorraine Tulloch said “ Today’s report should provide us with a wake up call to the challenge we face in delivering a healthier Scotland.  Educational messages and voluntary action from industry are not delivering the scale of change we need. We would urge Food Standards Scotland and Scottish Government to take bold, committed action to reduce sugar and fat content of foods and tipping the balance of cost and availability to healthier foods.”

Some Background Facts and Figures on Obesity

Adult Obesity and Overweight.[vi]

  • In Scotland in 2014, 65% of adults were overweight, including 28% who were obese. That is two in three people are overweight or obese.
  • Levels of overweight and obesity (measured by mean body mass index) have not changed significantly between 2008 and 2014. The picture has worsened since 1995.
  • Whilst rates are not continuing to rise significantly at the moment, the prevalence within Scotland is unacceptably high.
  • International comparisons indicate that Scotland has above average levels of adult overweight and obesity.
  • Based on recent OECD figures Scotland has the second highest rate of obesity in adults in Europe. Only Hungary has a higher rate.

Childhood Obesity and Overweight.[vii]

  • In Scotland, in 2014, 31% of children were at risk of becoming overweight (including obesity) and 17% were at risk of becoming obese.
  • Levels of obesity and overweight have been fairly stable in recent years but some years in the past have shown significant fluctuations.
  • There is evidence that being obese in childhood increases the risk of becoming an obese adult.
  • There is a significant inequality gap in obesity risk between the most affluent and the most deprived amongst Scottish children


  • Being obese or overweight can increase the risk of developing a range of serious diseases, including type 2 diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, some cancers and premature death[viii].
  • For example Type 2 diabetes is almost 13 times more likely to occur in obese women than in women of normal weight[ix].
  • Many of the diseases that arise in association with obesity shorten life expectancy by 2 to 4 years for those with class 1 obesity (BMI 30-35) and by 8 to 10 years for those with a BMI between 40 and 50 iv.

Costs of Obesity[x]

  • Recent estimates suggest that overweight and obesity may be responsible for NHS costs in Scotland of anything between £363 million and £600 million.
  • Average NHS costs for people with a body mass index of 40 (severe obesity) are estimated to be twice those for people with a BMI of 20 (within normal weight range).
  • The costs to the health service of obesity and its comorbidities may be comparable to that attributable to smoking.
  • Healthcare expenditure is only part of the issue there are also indirect economic costs
  • The McKinsey Institute estimate that the cost to the UK is equivalent to 3% of gross domestic product. This analysis takes into account: loss of productivity attributable to loss of life or impaired life quality, direct health care costs, and investment to mitigate the impact of obesity.


[ii] Public Health England, 2015.  Sugar Reduction. The Evidence for Action

[iii] Masson et al, 2012.  Food Standards Agency.  Survey of Diet among Children in Scotland (2010).  Volume 1: Diet, Obesity and Physical Activity

[iv] Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition, 2015. Carbohydrates and Health

[v] Ibid

[vi] Scottish Health Survey, 2014 edition. Summary Report

[vii] Scottish Health Survey, 2014 edition. Summary Report

[viii] McPherson K, Marsh T, Brown M. Foresight, 2007. Tackling Obesities: Future Choices – Project Report. 2nd Edition.

[ix] UK National Audit Office.

[x] Castle A, 2015. SPICe Briefing. Obesity in Scotland.