We are facing a childhood obesity epidemic in Scotland, says Tory spokesman

By Bill Heaney

Child poverty rates are one thing — but obesity rates are quite another. Both however are a cause for concern.

Labour MSP Claire Baker asked the Scottish Government whether it is on track to meet its target of halving the child obesity rate by 2030.

The Minister for Public Health and Women’s Health, Jenni Minto,  told her: “Our aim to halve childhood obesity by 2030 was deliberately ambitious and part of our public health priority to ensure that Scotland is a place where children have a healthy weight.

“A range of factors, including the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the cost crisis, have impacted on childhood obesity levels. The Scottish Government has delivered a range of actions from our diet and healthy weight delivery plan and remains committed to taking forward further actions, including forthcoming regulations—between now and 2030—to restrict promotions of food and drink that are high in fat, sugar or salt.”

Claire Baker, pictured left,  found this answer hard to swallow. She replied: “I have to say that ‘deliberately ambitious’ is a new way of describing a lack of delivery from the Government. In the recent statement on the healthy weight consultation, the minister said that she would not introduce mandatory measures on energy drinks, due to a lack of data.

“The most recent—insufficient—data, which was published by the Government, was dated February 2021. Does the minister recognise that, as the energy drinks market has expanded, we can all see an explosion in consumption among children and young people? If the Government will not take action because of a lack of data, what will it do to improve the evidence base? The lack of action is very disappointing.”

Jenni Minto told her: “Although we do not intend to proceed with legislation at this time, we recognise that it is an issue of concern to parents and teachers. We continue to support voluntary measures to restrict the sale of energy drinks to children and we will keep the question of how we can strengthen those measures under review.

“We will consider additional information gathering and analysis, including in relation to energy drink consumption, to support further consideration of mandatory measures in the future.”

Tory health spokesperson Sandesh Gulhane, below right,  told MSPs: “We are facing a childhood obesity epidemic in Scotland. When the pledge was announced in 2018, the prevalence of childhood obesity was 14 per cent. Latest reports show that it is now 18 per cent, which is an increase of four percentage points.

“As a practising national health service general practitioner, I can tell you that childhood obesity leads to a host of health issues in adulthood, including type 2 diabetes, respiratory issues and high blood pressure.

“However, for parents who are struggling to work out how to help their children, it is really important that they avoid the latest fads and do not put their children on diets.

“They should support them to make healthy choices and, hopefully, their child will grow out of obesity. I recently met Obesity Action Scotland, which told me of some great programmes in certain parts of the country, so parents who are worried should see their GP.

The consultation by the minister is the fourth consultation on restricting promotions on junk food. Will the Government commit that it will be the last consultation and that action will follow?”

Jenni Minto old him: “It is clear that, to ensure that we make the best policy—which is relatable to everybody and hits the targets and makes the changes that we intend—we have to continue to consult.

“Standing here, I cannot promise whether that will be the final consultation, but it is absolutely key to consult in order to get the right policies.”

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