Members discuss tackling childhood obesity in first full meeting of the Scottish Obesity Alliance

17 December 2019


On Tuesday 26 November 40 representatives from leading health charities, medical royal colleges, campaign groups and professional bodies with an interest in public health came together in the first full meeting of members of the Scottish Obesity Alliance. 

Held at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons Glasgow the event provided an opportunity to update members on the work of the Scottish Obesity Alliance. Elma Murray OBE, chair, reflected on the significant efforts to sustain and grow the Alliance in its first year. Membership increased from 11 to 24 organisations, and a coordinating group of 11 was appointed to deliver a work programme framed around policy priorities linked to the Alliance manifesto. Information and knowledge were shared via the Alliance website and social media. Policy work has been co-ordinated, and key politicians and civil servants have been engaged to reinforce policy calls on behalf of members. 

The event adopted a policy focus on childhood obesity in Scotland with an invited panel of speakers. Kathryn Burrows (Policy Manager, Diet and Healthy Weight Team at Scottish Government) gave us an overview of the current Diet and Healthy Weight plan and activities. The Scottish Government is aiming tocontinue to improve the support for pre-conception, explore extended collection of BMI data beyond Primary 1, introduce a 'Restricting Foods Promotions Bill', see a shift in advertising towards healthy options, and support a 9pm watershed. Kathryn outlined the importance of having a programme of measures in place to make the (Out of Home) sector healthier, and in the ongoing work on the whole systems approach to diet and healthy weight. She finishedby confirming a long-term commitment to taking action on tackling childhood obesity and reducing diet-related health inequalities.

Professor John Reilly (Professor of Physical Activity and Public Health Science, University of Strathclyde) summarised the recent findings from the Active Healthy Kids Scotland Report Card. His presentation focused on the evidence that childhood obesity is much more common than it seems from our national surveys. John also outlined that levels of physical activity are well below global recommendations, and physical activity declines early in life, around the time children start school.

And finally, Caroline Cerny (Alliance Lead, Obesity Healthy Alliance)provided an overview of the Obesity Health Alliance which has 45 organisations and a goal to speak with one voice on obesity policy. Their focus is on influencing national policy, covering obesity across the life course, but prioritising childhood obesity. Their work has focused on tackling childhood excess sugar and calorie intake, price promotions and junk food ads and in the new year will continue to focus on marketing and promotions, defining reformulation and fiscal measures. The Obesity Health Alliance will also look at how we talk about child obesity and lead the development of a long-term independent obesity strategy for the UK.

Following a short break, all speakers and attendees were invited to join conversation cafes to discuss the question: "What are the gaps in current national (Scottish) policy and action to tackle childhood obesity?" With lots of interesting discussions taking place, the following key gaps were identified:

  • A long term plan. Beyond short-term political cycles, budget cycles and staffing.
  • Local leadership and implementation, with greater community engagement. There is a lack of local information and data, or an inconsistency in the data collected.
  • An inequalities focus to look at this issue, and to look at access to services and the costs attached to this.

We would like to thank all our speakers and attendees for attending the event where we celebrated the achievements of the Scottish Obesity Alliance at the end of its first year and adopted a policy focus on tackling childhood obesity. It was really great to see lots of different organisations come together to explore solutions to this issue.

We look forward to lots more collaboration.