Diet and Healthy Weight Consultations

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 30 May 2023.

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Photo of Jenni Minto Jenni Minto Scottish National Party

Thank you, Presiding Officer. As the new Minister for Public Health and Women’s Health, I welcome this opportunity to reaffirm the Scottish Government’s vision of a Scotland where everyone eats well and has a healthy weight.

In 2018, we published our diet and healthy weight delivery plan, which detailed how we would seek to improve the health of our nation and which had preventative action at its heart.

It makes clear that to achieve Scotland’s dietary goals and to realise our aim to halve the childhood obesity rate by 2030 and reduce diet-related health inequalities requires action to support healthier options. That focus on improving health and reducing health inequalities was reiterated by the First Minister in the new policy prospectus “Equality, opportunity, community: New leadership—A fresh start”.

Today, I will provide updates on the outcome of three consultations, which are on ending the sale of energy drinks to children and young people; mandating calorie labelling in the out-of-home sector; and restricting promotions of food and drink that are high in fat, sugar or salt where they are sold to the public.

The views that were gathered in the consultations have helped us to ensure that our policies are evidence based, proportionate and designed to deliver positive outcomes for public health. The independent analysis reports for the three consultations were published today on the Scottish Government’s website.

I will first provide an update on our consultation on ending the sale of energy drinks to children and young people. The aim of the consultation was to inform our consideration of whether there is sufficient cause and evidence to mandate restrictions on their sale. An evidence-based approach is central to the development of our policy. We have carefully considered the received responses in conjunction with the current evidence base and, today, we have published an evidence brief on energy drinks alongside the consultation analysis report.

Based on our considerations, we do not think that the evidence base is sufficiently developed to pursue mandatory measures at this time. I recognise that consumption of energy drinks is a significant concern to parents, teachers and young people. We will therefore continue to support voluntary measures to restrict the sale of energy drinks to children and will keep under review how those could be strengthened.

We will also consider what additional evidence gathering and analysis could be undertaken, including on the impacts of current voluntary actions and understanding young people’s consumption of energy drinks and the contribution that that makes to their total caffeine intake. That will help to inform consideration of possible mandatory measures in the future.

I turn next to our consultation on mandating calorie information in the out-of-home sector, fulfilling a commitment in our 2021 out-of-home action plan. The consultation was accompanied by a rapid evidence review that was carried out by Food Standards Scotland, which found that mandating calorie labelling would likely lead to a reduction of calorie intake when eating out or ordering in.

In January this year, Nesta—the United Kingdom’s innovation agency for social good—published research confirming that calorie labelling in an online environment leads to calorie reduction, which is potentially a substantial reduction depending on how calorie information is presented. Out-of-home calorie labelling has been mandated for large businesses in England since April 2022, which has resulted in many UK-wide high street chains now including such information on their menus in outlets in Scotland.

I am grateful to all 660 respondents to our consultation and to the wide range of business, health, charity and consumer organisations that engaged with my officials. A strong case has been made by many respondents that requiring calorie information at the point of choice where people eat out or order in will help them to make more informed and healthier choices and that it will encourage reformulation and allow us to better monitor population calorie intakes in the out-of-home sector.

I thank the eating disorders charity Beat for the constructive way in which it has engaged with our consultation. Beat has helped us to hear from people affected by eating disorders who are concerned that mandatory calorie labelling will make their illness worse. Those accounts are powerful. They are real and we cannot ignore them. We need a better understanding of the lived experiences of those with an eating disorder. I welcome the fact that Public Health Scotland has commissioned research on the issue, which is due in the autumn.

We are committed to assessing the impact of our policies and are reflecting on all the responses that have been gathered, including the views of people who are affected by eating disorders. We wish to have further discussions with the hospitality sector before taking a decision to proceed with the measure. Therefore, I believe that we should pause before making a final decision on the next steps in relation to mandating calorie labelling.

I turn to the third consultation, which is on restricting the promotion of less healthy food and drink where they are sold to the public. We know that promotions such as multibuy offers or placement at checkouts can directly influence what people buy—that is what they are designed to do. Promotions can encourage us to buy things that we do not need and to overlook cheaper, healthier alternatives. Restricting the promotion of less healthy food and drink is an important step in encouraging healthier options and making it easier for people to spend less and make healthier choices.

Work on the policy was paused in 2020, as we sought to ascertain the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on both consumers and businesses. We have used the time since then to gather and consider additional evidence on our proposals and to take into account the pandemic, action in other parts of the UK, Britain’s exit from the European Union and cost of living pressures. Last summer, building on consultation carried out before the Covid-19 pandemic, we consulted on our proposals, including consulting on opportunities to be consistent with promotion restrictions in England when it is in Scotland’s best interest to do so. We keep our policies and the plans for their delivery under regular review, and evaluation is firmly embedded into the policy-making, implementation and delivery cycle.

Having done that important work, we have reviewed whether primary legislation is necessary and have concluded that there is a more direct and efficient route to deliver our policy aims. Therefore, rather than introduce the public health (restriction of promotions) bill, I plan to consult on the detail of proposed regulations this autumn. That will include proposals to restrict the promotion of less healthy food and drinks in prominent in-store locations, such as at the end of aisles or beside checkouts. We also propose to target certain price promotions, such as multibuys and unlimited refills, that encourage people to buy more than they actually need.

I recognise that businesses, as well as individuals, have experienced a number of significant challenges in the past few years. Our forthcoming consultation will provide an opportunity for them to comment on the detail of the proposed regulations, including on the timescales for implementation. In line with the principles of the new deal for business, that will be done in parallel with an extensive engagement programme to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to be heard. My officials and I look forward to engaging with our stakeholders, including businesses, as our policy develops. Furthermore, we will continue working with the joint regulatory task force and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to consider the differing impacts of regulation on business and to improve the process of developing, implementing and reviewing regulations to meet our long-term economic and societal aims.

I have focused today on the outcomes of three diet-related consultations and on our planned next steps. We will continue our support for voluntary measures to restrict the sale of energy drinks to children, while keeping under review how those measures could be strengthened. That will include the consideration of additional evidence and analysis to inform further consideration of possible mandatory measures in future. On the question of mandatory calorie labelling, there will be more time to consider the potential impact of such labelling on those with eating disorders, ensuring that we have a robust evidence base to further inform any steps that we might take in due course. Regarding the restriction of promotions, I will be taking forward a more focused consultation in the autumn on the detail of proposed regulations to restrict the promotion of less healthy food and drink where those are sold to the public.

Clearly, no policy in isolation can achieve our vision of a Scotland where everyone eats well and has a healthy weight. Our diet and healthy weight delivery plan sets out a challenging package of actions that will have a greater impact collectively. As I take stock of progress, I commend the work to date, while noting that there is still more to do.

I remain committed to the key outcomes of the delivery plan and am confident that, together with our public, private and third sector partners and by progressing the commitments set out today, we can meet those challenges and can encourage people to make healthier choices about food.