Obesity death crisis: Government ‘diktat’ not the way to solve problem, says Jean Freeman

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CENTRAL government ‘diktat’ is not the way to tackle rising obesity-related death rates, the health secretary has said, after a report warned they now exceed those linked to smoking. 

Jeane Freeman conceded that the country was “not doing good enough” in tackling the problem and said there was recognition now that a more individualised approach was needed, suggesting more involvement from GPs and community services.

In response the BMA, which represents doctors, said GPs had a role to play but as part of of a wider national strategy ‘based on bold and decisive action’. 

Funding row after £1million spent by Scottish Government in six years tackling Scotland’s biggest killer 

British Heart Foundation Scotland and nine other charities have jointly called for a delayed bill to be implemented as soon as soon as possible that will place restrictions on the promotion of junk food at supermarket checkouts and the sale of multi-buy offers.

Research has found shoppers who buy the largest proportion of their shopping on promotion are 28% more likely to be obese than those who had less discounted goods.

The Scottish Government said yesterday that the need for additional measures will be considered ‘at an appropriate time’ taking into account the impact of the pandemic on services.

Glasgow University data collected between 2003 and 2017 and involving 192,239 adults across England and Scotland found that between 2003 and 2017, deaths attributable to smoking decreased from 23.1% to 19.4%. This was attributed to the success of policies including the ban on smoking public places.

In the same period, deaths attributed to obesity and excess body fat have increased from 17.9% to 23.1%. Mortality was likely to be due to the contribution to cancer and cardiovascular disease and men were more likely to be affected and those aged over 50.

Obesity costs the NHS an estimated £600million, compared to £267million from alcohol.

Asked about the report’s findings on BBC Radio Scotland, Ms Freeman said: “No, we are not doing good enough and one of our main commitments – which I hope that my party’s government will be returned after May and continue this good work –  is a real focus on population health and helping people to live more healthily, which people want do to.

Proposed junk food restrictions ‘paused’ by Scottish Government in pandemic

“But it has to be based on their personal experience, what is it that would work for you as opposed to a central dictat, eat more bananas or whatever.

“And so, the whole shift in how we will do this, will be led by people in local communities, their primary care services, their community services, telling us what they need to help them to live more healthily.”

Cancer and heart charities have called for more ‘equitable’ access to weight management services.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde was one of the first health boards to refer patients to weight-loss classes, run by WW, formerly Weight Watchers. Figures from 2019 found that 70% of people completing the programme lost five per cent or more of their body weight.

Professor Jill Pell, who led the Glasgow University research, said the  obstacle to making inroads into the problem was its ‘complexity’.

She said:  “It’s very similar to smoking in that you can’t rely on one intervention and you certainly can’t rely on leaving it up to the individual.

“We have known for a long time that smoking rates were going down and we need to be focussing more our efforts on tackling obesity.

“There was a long gap between us knowing that smoking kills people and us taking it seriously enough to tackle it in an effective way and we can’t afford to leave it.”

However, the researchers found that while obesity was likely to cause more deaths in older adults, smoking was still more likely to contribute to deaths in younger adults.

Agenda: Addressing obesity is a national priority 

Dr Andrew Buist, chair of the BMA’s Scottish GP Committee, described obesity as a ‘major concern’. 

He said: “Of course, GPs have a role to play in this but that must be part of a wider national strategy based on bold and decisive action. 

“On a local level, primary care multidisciplinary teams, nurses, dieticians and community cookery groups are available to give advice on healthy lifestyles, and it is right that local authorities should have the necessary powers to ensure that the food environment everyone lives in is conducive to healthy eating.”

Jon Roden, Policy and Public Affairs Manager, of BHF Scotland said: “It is crucial all political parties in Scotland act now to ensure that the healthy choice is an easy choice for everyone in Scotland.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said:“Tackling obesity is a public health priority and we have an ambitious delivery plan in place to address the challenge. 

“The need for further measures will be considered at the appropriate time, when we have been able to take stock, taking into account the impact the pandemic has had on people and services.

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