Leadership and ambition from Scottish ‘Healthier Future’ Plan

Last week, hot on the tails of the UK Government’s Obesity Strategy Chapter 2, the Scottish Government released their final plan for tackling overweight and obesity. We wrote about their draft plan when it was released in October 2017, and following the consultation period it is fair to say that the resulting ‘A Healthier Future’ plan demonstrates real leadership and ambition!

The Ministerial forward to the plan says: “This situation is unacceptable – not least because it’s largely avoidable. Change is needed. We won’t shirk from this challenge.” And the impressive list of 67 actions in the plan demonstrates this ambition, particularly as all the actions are grouped around the central goal of reducing health inequalities in Scotland.

In addition to echoing some of the great proposals in the UK Government’s plan, including a goal to halve childhood obesity by 2030 and urging the UK government to adopt marketing and advertising restrictions, the Scottish plan goes even further. It fills a number of the gaps that we identified in the UK Government’s plan.

First among them are the excellent proposals within ‘A Healthier Future’ for how the plan will be monitored and evaluated. They’ll be developing an M&E framework, reporting outcomes by socioeconomic group and establishing a “senior oversight group” to help drive progress. This sort of mechanism is exactly what we are calling for the UK government to set up to ensure that the strategies set out in Chapter 2 are followed through. It is no good having an excellent plan on paper if it is not implemented!

‘A Healthier Future’ also sets out a number of actions aimed at improving early years nutrition and breastfeeding – which were not included at all within the UK Government’s plan. It is hugely commendable that the Scottish government is proposing to link entitlement to free childcare with a free, nutritious meal programme in early year care settings. The meals would need to follow a set of national nutrition standards, which goes significantly further than the voluntary guidance on meals in early years settings recently issued by Public Health England.

The Scottish Government is also currently consulting on strengthening their school meal standards, including a proposal to include two portions of veg in every school meal. We, of course, are hugely enthusiastic about this as it aligns with the goals and ambitions of our Peas Please initiative – and hope everyone will chime in on the consultation to support this measure and the others being proposed.

Other gaps that ‘A Healthier Future’ fills are calls for the UK government to restrict the use of characters on HFSS foods and revising their planning policy to take into account a commissioned evidence review on the role of planning in creating healthier food environments.

It is fantastic to see that most of the proposals set out in the draft Scottish plan have been carried through the consultation period and added to the final plan. In doing so, they’ve set a high bar for the consultation process that the UK Government will now be undertaking with their Obesity Strategy Chapter 2. There is a lot of scope for consultation processes to result in watered down proposals, and we’re urging the UK Government to be brave. We hope they’ll follow the example of Scotland in setting down ambitious actions that will be monitored by a task force – this issue is too important not to.