Top-heavy: The Scottish obesity crisis

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It has long been known that the rate of obesity has been skyrocketing in many western nations, and Britain is no exception. It should come as no surprise then that the land of deep fried Mars Bars outweighs the rest of the UK, where 65% of Scottish adults were found to be overweight or obese in 2016. Naturally policymakers would want to combat this, and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has set a target to half child obesity by 2030. But critics have raised doubts over the proposed methods to achieve this, one of the most controversial of which being the banning of 2 for 1 pizzas.  It is certainly a serious issue, as in 2015 it was estimated that NHS treatments linked to obesity cost the NHS £600 million in Scotland alone.

Nicola Sturgeon announced the new plans alongside Jamie Oliver, who has previously been involved in numerous programmes to combat child obesity, including overhauling Britain’s school dinner system.

Obesity rates in Scotland, as in the rest of the UK, are inversely related to wealth, with children from deprived areas being twice as likely to be obese than those from more well off areas. One key reason often cited for this is the convenience and relatively low cost of fast food, among which takeaway pizza can be counted. A 2016 study also found that 45% of children from the poorest fifth of the population drink fizzy drinks every day, compared with 30% from the wealthiest fifth.

Whatever the reasoning, it is a fact that the areas of society hardest hit by obesity are generally the poorest. But would these proposed solutions really help? Former leader of the Scottish Labour Party Kezia Dugdale criticised the SNP’s policy, claiming that cuts to public spending have suspended free swimming lessons for children in Glasgow, a move which could stand to increase obesity rates among children. Others have pointed out that policies which restrict promotions on junk food does not target the root cause of the problem, and only serves to further the economic burden on the country’s poorest.

While the policy has been met with staunch opposition, it is still a significant step in fighting the obesity epidemic, and Scotland’s tougher stance on obesity may be paying off. A recent paper presented at the European Congress on Obesity forecasts the Scottish obesity rates will fall behind those of England and Wales by 2035, however it is still predicted to rise by 1%.

In an ideal world there would be no need for economic restrictions on food or drink, and consumers would be armed with the knowledge they need to make healthy choices when it comes to food and drink, however such a world is very far off, if it will ever come at all. At the heart of this debate is a conflict between economic rights and social welfare, and in this case the SNP are trading the former in the hopes of achieving the latter.

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