The Scottish government has begun consultations on ways to lower obesity rates, focusing on the health problems caused by fatty, sugary and salty food and drink. Proposals could see restrictions on multiple refills, junk foods at checkouts and multibuys. It is important to stress that these proposals are still in the fact-finding stage and nothing is concrete as of yet, however it is worth considering whether this is indeed a step in the right direction, or a further limiting of our ability to control what we eat.
The sugar levy on the soft drinks industry introduced this April has reduced the amount of sugar in our soft drinks, but at the same time has led to rising levels of aspartame (a sweetener), which many still believe could be a carcinogen. It has also altered, in some cases significantly, the taste of some of our national favourites; for example, many have even sworn off Ribena as a result. Many consumers would certainly prefer to drink sugar than aspartame or taste the old Ribena instead of the new, but as a result of government interference, that option is now no longer available to them. It has to be asked, however, whether giving the government greater controls over our nutrition would be a positive move or whether it would lead to more consumer disappointment and potentially worse health later in life.
The proponents of the Scottish government’s proposals will point to the Scottish obesity rate: 29 per cent of Scots are said to be obese and that figure is only rising. This puts more pressure on the already flagging NHS through obesity related diseases which, with a better diet, could potentially be preventable. However, as many body positive writers have noted, diet and exercise often aren’t enough to help people lose weight. Studies have proven that a more caring and knowledgeable system of medical care that focusses on the individual’s long term needs rather than making sweeping generic recommendations helps people to lose weight and keep from gaining it again. When one follows this view of obesity care, then the Scottish government’s proposals seem to almost be targeted at the wrong sector of society. Rather than restricting supermarkets and schools, why not focus on retraining doctors to make sure their care and advice actually helps people instead of shaming them?
At the time of writing these are merely proposals and nothing is set in stone, but I for one would like to see governments spending more time working out more effective ways to treat obesity, rather than waste time stopping us from impulse buying the occasional chocolate bar at the till.