Building an Alliance to Tackle Overweight and Obesity in Scotland
The event was held in the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow on Friday 22nd April. Guests included academics and obesity researchers, charities such as British Heart Foundation and Diabetes Scotland, NHS, NHS Health Scotland, Directors of Public Health, Food Standards Scotland, Scottish Academy of Royal Colleges, Obesity Action Scotland and other experts.
Why Obesity Matters to Me
To start the day, attendees discussed why work on obesity mattered to them. There was one recurring theme; attendees wanted to make sure that future generations of Scots live in a world where culture and environment promote health and wellbeing, where healthy choices are easy and made by default, and where fresh, healthy food is widely available, affordable and sustainable.
During the event four speakers set the scene and shared their experience.
Dr Andrew Fraser from NHS Health Scotland and Obesity Action Scotland spoke passionately about the obesity crisis in Scotland and concluded that the time is right to set up an alliance and influence the direction of change.
Lorraine Tulloch, Programme Lead for Obesity Action Scotland, explained that the event was called to explore the potential of setting up an obesity alliance in Scotland because obesity is one of the biggest public health threats Scotland faces. An alliance could have a significant impact on progressing policy on tackling obesity through a collaborative approach.
Phil Mackie from the Scottish Public Health Network stressed the urgency of addressing the crisis, pointing out that healthcare demand associated with obesity may soon outstrip the NHS’s ability to sustain its service. He also commented on the very limited success of the Obesity Route Map and suggested we needed a clear, independent voice to help implement it.
Finally, Sheila Duffy from ASH Scotland spoke about leading and being a partner in national and international alliances tackling tobacco issues. She pointed to the many benefits of alliances such as maximising the impact of limited resources, joining up expertise and energy, developing shared messages and shared agendas and having voices from many different sectors and levels to push things forward, making change happen. Sheila concluded that working together offers the opportunity to address some of the complex and inter-related issues on people’s lives, bringing empowerment, information, support and creating environments that allow healthy choices to be made.
During discussions, attendees acknowledged existing successful approaches and actions tackling obesity in Scotland. They pointed to numerous community and local government initiatives focusing on diet, physical activity and healthy lifestyle, obesity research, the bold step of a sugar tax, as well as strong support for creating an obesity alliance in Scotland. Finally, the current political will to tackle obesity was in focus - generated by the constant work of health groups and growing media and public awareness of obesity issues.
Groups of attendees also explored what needed to be stopped, changed or improved to tackle obesity effectively in Scotland.
Some suggestions included:
- focusing on the environment as opposed to individual choices,
- shifting food culture in Scotland towards healthier and more sustainable practices,
- co-designing solutions with communities,
- improving clarity of health messages to minimise confusion,
- building further understanding of obesity through research,
- targeting acceptability, availability and pricing of obesogenic foods,
- working with the food industry,
- providing more opportunities for healthier choices and leading healthier lifestyles, making sure that changes are sustainable and long-term,
- focusing on prevention,
- making sure that practice meets standards.
The majority of attendees were in favour of an obesity alliance in Scotland, while two were a “maybe”. Group discussions that followed were the first attempt to define and shape the alliance. Suggestions included a safe place for difficult conversations, a place to collaborate, share experience and expertise, good practice and research and to identify research gaps.
An alliance would have a stronger voice than the sum of individual organisations’ voices, which would garner greater power to impact and influence policymakers. An alliance with a clear vision and focus would create one strong voice to address the obesity problem in Scotland more effectively.
As the event indicated strong support for an alliance, the next logical step is to establish a core planning group to lead the development of the alliance and define its priorities. A few of the participating organisations volunteered to be part of that group. We will keep you posted.