Food Standards Scotland explores a distinct strategy for Scotland

Public Health professionals have reacted with disappointment at the long awaited announcement of the UK Government’s plans to tackle childhood obesity and the inadequacy of its responses to incessant marketing of foods high in sugar, salt and saturated fat. While the main planks of the strategy include targeted reduction of sugar content through a voluntary scheme, plus the imposition of the ‘soft-drink tax’, the absence of any challenge to unsuitable marketing of unhealthy food, or any suggested regulation of it, is regarded by many as a capitulation.

Interestingly, on August 17, Foods Standards Scotland issued its five-year strategy towards meeting the Scottish Dietary Goals, which acknowledged the importance of a collaborative approach with stakeholders. The report is however, unclear on what form the regulatory enforcement would take other than that the progress from voluntary steps to regulatory measures would need to be considered. As a strategy document it is short on specifics and long on options. Responses to it are invited.

Clearly there will be challenges ahead for both manufacturers and retailers if different standards are applied across different parts of the UK, but it is likely that Public Health England will be held to account against its claim that there will be “no hiding place” if sufficient progress is not made on a six-monthly basis: they admit that without such progress, “the need for further, broader action would be unarguable”.

Across the whole of the UK, the challenge will be to ensure that policies adopted are based on wide and balanced evidence rather than rhetoric. The degree of success of the industry’s effort to reduce obesity will take some time to measure, but manufacturers should assume that regulation will follow if they do not play their part by modifying their marketing.