Scottish Obesity Alliance - Chair's blog
11 May 2020
I wrote my first blog for the Scottish Obesity Alliance when it was just 6 months old. Now, a year later, I find myself reviewing the achievements and successes of the Alliance, as it faces an even greater challenge than we did when the Alliance was created – the impact of COVID-19 on our long-term health, diet and levels of healthy weight in our population.
I will start with the positives from our recent past before looking to the future.
The Scottish Obesity Alliance has continued to grow, with 26 members at the time of writing, covering a broad range of backgrounds and specialisms. From Royal Colleges to Transport bodies all with a common goal to ensure everyone in Scotland can benefit from achieving a healthy weight. Our Executive Group, which meets quarterly, represents this broad background with members working in diet, physical activity, child health and built environment. We have positioned ourselves to work collaboratively with other like-minded groups, to support the Scottish Government in its objective to halve childhood obesity by 2030, and we have focused on ‘people first’.
More specifically, over this last year we have:
- launched our twitter account and website
- submitted our first formal response to the UK consultation on introducing further advertising restrictions on TV and online for products high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS)
- lobbied for inclusion of new legislation to regulate promotions on HFSS products within the Scottish Government’s Programme for Government for 2019/2020 (it is included, but for 2020/21)
- commenced a programme of engagement with MSPs to influence and inform their thinking on all aspects of policy that have an impact on the obesogenic environment and particularly child weight supported by a series of engagements with civil servants and officials to gain their confidence and support
- started to work with Heads of Planning and RTPI to consider the future planning environment and to influence the National Planning Framework 4
- worked with Young Scot to prepare a proposal to create a Youth Commission to hear directly from young people about how we create the best conditions for them to enjoy a healthy weight
- been invited to participate in setting the strategy for the Social and Public Health Sciences Unit (University of Glasgow) 5-year programme of research
- become members of the Cross-Party working groups on Health Inequalities and Improving Scotland's Health
- hosted our second Annual Event with a range of speakers and a superb conversation café exploring the gaps in Scottish Policy to tackle childhood obesity.
All of this has allowed the Alliance to build its profile across Scotland and to be recognised as a group working to influence the multi-faceted approach required to address Scotland’s weight challenge.
While there is much to celebrate from the last year, unfortunately our efforts will need to be re-doubled and our voice amplified in the future. As we start to understand the implications of COVID-19, what lockdown means for people, and how we emerge, with ongoing restrictions, there is no doubt that our work will be harder. We can already see that the unintended consequences of this virus, and our management of it, is affecting the poorest and most vulnerable in our communities disproportionately.
Issues which have already been highlighted by the World Health Organisation include:
- lack of access to quality, affordable, healthy food resulting from food supply disruption, stockpiling and production issues, and spikes in food prices
- consequential increased reliance on highly processed, long shelf life, calorie-rich foods and reduced access to fresh fruit and vegetables
- nutrition-specific community measures designed to address problems of poor access to food are at risk due to the heightened focus of health, local government and third sector resources on COVID-19
- the long-term effects of the suspension of some health services. For example, maternal health services such as breastfeeding support services - for children, having been breastfed reduces their risk of being overweight or obese in childhood and adulthood
- reduced physical activity and increased sedentary behaviour due to movement restrictions and physical distancing measures aligned to increased screen time and exposure to advertising.
Our combined efforts are therefore more important than ever to ensure, as we emerge from the pandemic, that we do not go back to the old ways, but our Governments actively:
- support the food economy to promote affordable and accessible healthy foods to all
- promote increased physical activity in policy development
- embed a whole systems approach to policy making to ensure policy coherence between food and health right across all parts of Government.
In summary, while there is much to be pleased about, there is a lot to do over the coming year to ensure we are a part of creating a more sustainable and healthy future which supports everyone to have a healthy weight.
With warmest wishes to everyone,
Elma Murray, OBE
Chair, Scottish Obesity Alliance