Every day the evidence grows. Every day we learn more about how obesity affects our health. Every day the media give this issue attention. But is this translating into action?

The recent report from IARC reaffirms the significant health consequences associated with excess weight.  We need to take action now to reduce future cancer incidence.

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We know what we should do, so why is it so hard?

Obesity Action Scotland believes that if we are serious about tackling this issue we urgently need to change the food environment that surrounds us.  We all know that when we eat a bar of chocolate or an extra cake, a quick snack or ready meal it’s not a healthy choice.  We know it so well that there is now strong evidence that we have been under-reporting our calorie consumption for years in surveys and questionnaires.

We know what we should do, so why is it so hard?

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Well, it’s tasty for a start.  There is no denying that chocolate, cakes, sugar-sweetened drinks taste good to most people. And the more we eat the more we want. Have we, in Scotland, now given ourselves such a sweet tooth that we will struggle to find other foods tasty enough?

Junk food surrounds us and is very cleverly marketed to us every day.  We face price promotions skewed towards unhealthy products that encourage us to buy and eat more than we need.  We are offered bargain price sweet treats at tills that tempt us when we are most open to influence.  We are bombarded with adverts that offer us an easier, more attractive lifestyle if we just buy the latest flavour or dish.  We face celebratory cake at work and fundraising events – it would be rude to say no!  All of this creates an environment where the odds of staying a healthy weight are stacked against us.

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The only way we can start to see change is to redesign our food environment – that needs, amongst other measures, introducing regulation to ensure the healthy choice is the easy choice and the cheapest choice.  All the experts agree that education alone is not enough and only by changing the environment will we start to see impact.  Regulation would also allow us to create a level playing field across the industry – something that a number of retailers favour.

What kind of change would it be?

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Price promotions on healthy foods and tight limits on others; advertising and marketing on healthy foods with limited exposure to other material,; portion sizes and labels that are easy to understand and consistent, price differentials in food to ensure the healthy choice is cheaper; ingredients in food adjusted to reduce sugar and fat content.

How likely are we to see change?

Changes such as this require action from Government.  The UK Government have shown that they are only willing to go so far and that isn’t far enough.  The Scottish Government have still to announce what they will include in a new diet and obesity plan and we hope they will be brave enough to show strong leadership on this issue.

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But let’s not sit around and wait for plans to be presented to us. Let’s lead the agenda by asking what our MSPs are doing to positively change our food environment. Let’s demand a strong and robust diet and obesity plan. And then let’s ensure they deliver on it. For us and our children.

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