Tackling Obesity is Top Priority - Let’s Do This!

20 January 2016

Obesity Action Scotland welcomes today’s (20th January 2016) Board Paper[1] from FSS which marks a turning point in Scotland’s intention to progress towards a healthier diet.

Obesity Action Scotland is delighted to see that Food Standards Scotland (FSS) have shifted the discussion on regulation and taxation of Scotland’s food environment from if it should happen to when and how it should happen.

FSS recognise that policies with good intentions have, until now, been insufficient to alter the rise in obesity and that voluntary approaches to working with industry have had a poor response in Scotland.  FSS highlight that now is the time to take new approaches to improve the food and drink environment - the use of taxation and regulation are steps we should now take.

The key issues within the paper that Obesity Action Scotland supports are:

  • exploring how and where regulation might be most effective to rebalance promotions in favour of healthier food and drink
  • exploring the potential for regulation in relation to retail and out of home portion size
  • that SG and FSS officials actively consider how a sugar tax may be introduced and at what rate
  • the initiative to provide support to small businesses with an on-line calorie labelling tool

Where Obesity Action Scotland supports FSS but would ask it to go further includes:

  • Advertising and marketing – there is clear recognition that advertising and marketing influence what we purchase and consume.  Whilst we fully support the call for UK Government to restrict children’s advertising on broadcast and non-broadcast media we also need Scottish Government to consider what is within its powers and how it could influence billboard and other types of local marketing and advertising.
  • Reformulation – we welcome the proposed introduction of more challenging time bound targets. Obesity Action Scotland calls for a better framework to monitor success and a clear process of encouragement and consequences.
  • Labelling – Obesity Action Scotland believe that improvements could be made to labelling including regulation to ensure consistent application across the industry of the front of pack labelling, improved labelling for sugar content, and improved and consistent nutritional information for eating out.

Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer, in her report out today, places obesity at the top of her public health problem list.

“This is an important step for food policy in Scotland, taking effective measures to prevent obesity.  We are delighted that Food Standards Scotland has not only recognised the need for change but has also indicated that it will move forward to implement that change.  Now is the time for change, let’s do this together.” said Lorraine Tulloch, Programme Lead for Obesity Action Scotland  “If we are to turn the tide on the crisis we face with obesity and overweight in Scotland we need such bold actions.  I would urge Scottish Ministers to commit to progress these actions and to implement the change we need. We need industry to take the steps necessary to ensure the healthy choice is the easy choice for consumers.


Some Background Facts and Figures on Obesity

Adult Obesity and Overweight.[i]

  • 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.[ii]

  • 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[iii].
  • For example Type 2 diabetes is almost 13 times more likely to occur in obese women than in women of normal weight[iv].
  • 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[v]

  • 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.

[1] http://www.foodstandards.gov.scot/news/20-january-board-meeting

[i] Scottish Health Survey, 2014 edition. Summary Report  http://www.gov.scot/Resource/0048/00485587.pdf

[ii] Scottish Health Survey, 2014 edition. Summary Report  http://www.gov.scot/Resource/0048/00485587.pdf

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

[iv] UK National Audit Office.

[v] Castle A, 2015. SPICE Briefing. Obesity in Scotland.