These past two years have been extremely challenging for Scotland. Together, we have faced a very difficult COVID-19 pandemic and for many, the virus has highlighted and exacerbated a legacy of long-standing health inequalities. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact public health as well as causing disruption to our health, social care and other services.
We face another national health emergency. Obesity and poor diet continue to be one of the biggest and most complex public health challenges. Creating a Scotland where we all eat well, have as healthy a weight as we can, and are more physically active remains a priority. The COVID-19 pandemic and associated risk factors presented by poor dietary health and obesity shows us just how important these matters are. The fact that socio-economic disadvantage, disability or being part of a certain minority ethnic community creates additional barriers for people is not acceptable. Reducing diet-related health inequalities must be central to our action.
There is no single solution to addressing our diet and obesity challenges. However, we know that a key factor is improving our food environment, making it easy for everyone to buy healthier foods and supporting business to offer healthier options.
Before the pandemic, people living in Scotland were consuming more and more food and drink out of home (OOH). Whether it's breakfast at a roadside café, grabbing a lunchtime soup and sandwich from a local convenience store or ordering food online from a restaurant, most of us were increasingly buying food outside the home or ordering it in. I expect that trend to resume as we build a fairer, greener and healthier Scotland as we recover from the pandemic.
It's for this reason that I launched our Out of Home Action Plan on 10 September last year. With two-thirds of the population living in Scotland recorded as living with overweight or obesity, we must look at all evidence based practical solutions. The Plan covers those that I consider will be the most effective public health measures for the OOH sector while addressing diet-related inequalities. A key proposal within the Plan is calorie labelling.
The introduction of mandatory calorie labelling at the point of choice in the OOH sector would be a significant step forward and level the playing field with the retail sector. This consultation is an opportunity to inform the development of policy proposals and the decision on the introduction of calorie labelling. And if we do proceed to legislate, a further consultation may likely be required on more detailed proposals which would inform how we implement the policy and who would need to comply.
We know that giving people more information, such as the number of calories in meals will enable people to make healthier choices when eating out, or ordering in. It has also been shown to stimulate businesses to review their offerings and encourage reformulation. This is not novel practice – calories are already required on retail food purchases and calorie labelling for OOH sites is mandated in many other countries. Legislation has been laid in England to come into force from 6 April 2022. The Welsh Government is also considering such a policy.
Many food companies in Scotland have already taken this significant step voluntarily. We want to learn from those experiences and I would urge those companies to share their learning in this consultation.
In setting out this consultation, we have used the considerable expertise of Food Standards Scotland and Public Health Scotland to set questions that will help us establish the benefits, opportunities and impacts of mandating calorie labelling in OOH settings.
Thank you for your continued assistance as we embark on our journey to enable consumers to make informed, healthier choices. We consult because we want better policy – and better, fairer outcomes as a result. We want to ensure the steps we propose taking are proportionate and are most likely to deliver beneficial outcomes. Your responses will inform the consideration of legislation and impact assessments. I thank you in advance for your response.
Maree Todd MSP
Minister for Public Health, Women's Health and Sport
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