In July 2018, the Scottish Government set out their strategy for diet and healthy weight in their ‘A Healthier Future’ plan. In October 2019, the Welsh Government published their new long-term strategy to prevent and reduce obesity in Wales. But how do they compare?
Advertising and promotion of ‘junk food’
Both governments recognise that advertising and promotion of unhealthy food is ubiquitous and needs to be restricted. The Welsh Government has committed to a ban on the advertising, promotion and sponsorship of foods high in fat, sugar and/or salt (HFSS) in public spaces, including: bus/train stations, sporting events, family attractions, hospitals, leisure centres and in and around schools.
As they have committed to a ban, this policy from the Welsh Government seems to be stronger than the Scottish Government’s commitment to engage with local authorities, transport companies and media agencies with an aim to restrict advertising on transport sites. The Scottish Government also requested that the Advertising Standards Authority implement a ban on advertising HFSS foods within 800m of schools and any site with 25% or more footfall by under 16s.
In terms of promotions the Scottish Government have consulted and, in the most recent programme for government, committed to legislate restricting the promotion of HFSS products where they are sold to the public. They also urged swift action by the UK Government to implement a 9pm broadcast advertising ‘watershed’ for HFSS products, while the Welsh Government say they will support the UK Government to further restrict TV advertising. The Welsh strategy commits to a more general ‘change in the use’ of price promotions in retail settings, with a focus throughout on increasing the promotion of healthier options.
Both governments have asked for more devolved taxation powers. The Welsh Government has specifically asked for this if the pace of Public Health England’s reformulation programme does not meet expectations. The Scottish Government’s ask is similar; however, urges the UK Government to make further use of the tax system to reduce HFSS purchases and to make healthy foods cheaper.
The Welsh Government has committed to a ban on the sale of energy drinks to children and young people, whereas the Scottish Government are currently consulting on such a ban.
Out of home
The Welsh Government has committed to placing limits on the establishment of new Hot Food Takeaways around schools and communities, and the upselling of HFSS food and drink, including free refills. They have also committed their support to increase the availability of healthier food options on high streets. However, proposals in Scotland seem more comprehensive and at a more advanced stage. The development of an out of home strategy for Scotland is underway, with Food Standards Scotland recently making a series of recommendations to Scottish Ministers.
Both governments have a focus on health inequities running throughout their policies. Both state that by implementing the proposed policy actions in their reports, this will automatically have an impact on reducing health inequities.
The Scottish Government committed to research how body image contributes to poor mental wellbeing in young people (and to act on the findings). NHS Health Scotland will also develop professional training and on weight bias and obesity stigma by 2020. Contrastingly, there is no mention of weight stigma within the Welsh report.
Both governments have committed to the provision of food over the school holidays in a bid to address food insecurity, however, only the Scottish Government have so far made a monetary commitment, investing a further £1 million over two years.
Overall, the areas covered in both reports are similar and the Welsh report commits to action on many of the areas Obesity Action Scotland indicate action is required. There are several differences in policies, with the Welsh Government committing definitively to more bans than the Scottish Government, notably taking a strong stance on advertising, promotion and sponsorship of HFSS products in public spaces.
It is important to note that the Welsh Government report is set out as a long-term plan, with the idea that we should ‘expect to see’ these environmental changes by 2030, whereas the Scottish Government has set an ambitious target of halving childhood obesity by 2030. Additionally, while Scotland has already held a number of relevant consultations, Wales will likely still hold consultations on how bans should be shaped and implemented. This means that policies, such as the ban on energy drinks, may end up being implemented by the Scottish Government first, despite the commitment of an outright ban by the Welsh Government.