Linda Bauld: Cutting back on child obesity is weighty issue

Junk food can lead to health problems later in life
Junk food can lead to health problems later in life
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LOOK around any primary school playground in Edinburgh and the Lothians and you can expect to see around a fifth of the children there carrying too much weight.

It’s a shocking reality, a stark reflection of the obesity epidemic that’s currently gripping Scotland, and one that poses the threat of serious health consequences in the future. An obese child is around five times more likely to be an obese adult, storing up health problems for their entire lives and placing them at risk of preventable cancers.

Professor Linda Bauld is Cancer Prevention Champion at Cancer Research UK

Professor Linda Bauld is Cancer Prevention Champion at Cancer Research UK

Obesity is the single biggest preventable cause of cancer after smoking in the UK and is linked to 13 different types of cancer. We also know that if current trends continue, rising numbers of overweight and obese adults could result in 670,000 avoidable cases of cancer across the UK over the next 20 years. Surely this tells us it really is time to take action. At Cancer Research UK we believe the Scottish Government can and must do more.

The realisation that Scotland is bearing the weight of the high cost of obesity has dawned in the halls of power. In its recently published manifesto, the SNP acknowledges that obesity is one of the biggest challenges facing the nation’s health. It also expresses the SNP’s disappointment with the UK Government childhood obesity plan which was published last year.

We agree – the UK obesity strategy was disappointing in that it didn’t go far enough to make a significant difference. Now, the Scottish Government has a chance to lead the way with brave new measures that would result in a healthier Scotland. Proposals for its new obesity strategy are anticipated soon and we hope they will be bold.

Cancer Research UK is clear that one of the most effective measures the Scottish Government can take to curb the rising tide of obesity is to restrict the array of multi-buy offers on unhealthy food that supermarket shoppers are routinely faced with.

Walking around the supermarket aisles, we’ve all seen the bright labels enticing us to stock up and buy more than we need – two chocolate bars for a pound, three multi-bags of crisps for £3. It’s a skilful marketing ploy that’s hard to resist and it is causing families all over Scotland to fill up their trolleys with excessive amounts of junk food.

And of course price does matter. Studies have shown that the most deprived in our society consume the fewest fruit and vegetables. They also consume the highest amounts of sugar, processed meat products and chips. Scottish households also have the biggest thirst for fizzy drinks, spending more than a quarter more than other UK nations on soft drinks. We buy what we consider to be good value for money and much more needs to be done to make healthy options affordable.

Cancer Research UK believes the nation’s poor health justifies strong action. Restrictions on supermarket price promotions on unhealthy foods would be effective and feasible. By making junk food more expensive and rebalancing promotions towards healthier options, we’ll be taking home smaller waistlines, healthier lives, as well as bags of tastier, fresher and more nutritious food.

Prof Linda Bauld, Cancer Prevention Champion, Cancer Research UK