The Scottish Government has announced proposals for a strategy to tackle obesity. We welcome the challenges they set out, but we have our work cut out.
Obesity affects one in every four adults and almost one in five children.
65% of adults are overweight.
Whatever we have done before has not been enough to address the most pressing modern epidemic we face, a condition that gives rise to many diseases that blight our physical and mental wellbeing and contributes to social isolation and exclusion. We cannot grow a modern economy if overweight – the condition of the majority across Scotland - impairs our performance at work and at home.
No business - whether it is NHS Scotland, food and drink producers and retailers, or carers in our homes and communities - wants to face a future where their workforce struggles to cope with the changing demands of jobs that need done as they grow older.
By and large, people do not make a wilful attempt to eat too much, to put on weight and stay overweight.
So what has happened to make us this way?
The chief explanation is that we live in a society that makes it easy to gain weight; where we buy or consume food, the kind of food that retailers make it easy for us to choose, and tempt us to come back for more.
It takes more than experts and diets, magazines and services that advise and help us to take the weight off. It takes governments – local and national – to step in and help to curb excess, and prevent the epidemic persisting that we see in front of our eyes.
Action must start with a national movement; a settled will towards choosing, buying and eating fewer, better, calories - on average, every day. Of course there are exceptions – e.g. people recovering from debilitating illness, women who are pregnant and people who are underweight – but for most, these are temporary states. The overall message has to be less overall; more balanced foods that mirror guidance about more fibre, fruit and vegetables, less fat, salt and a lot less sugar.
One further point is pertinent: no strategy on obesity will succeed if it focusses predominantly on higher levels of exercise. Regular physical activity is important and a good thing to do for many reasons, but it will not address Scotland’s weight problem by itself.
Scotland has a health record that is improving all the time, yet it lags behind our neighbours, and is in a particularly bad way when we tip the scales.
The health consequences are well documented; what we can do about obesity is also well documented.
It’s time we just agreed and got on with it.