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Obesity and Poverty

Child Obesity in Scotland

NHS Scotland has recently published its report on the scale of obesity in Scotland. The overall finding is that 29% of women and 28% of men aged 18-64 are obese. However, on closer inspection the figures revealed a stark divide between obesity levels in children across Scotland. 13% of children starting school in the poorest areas are at risk of becoming obese, while this figure was almost half that at 7% for children in the wealthiest areas. Our Food for Life programme aims to address this clear link between poverty and obesity.

Food for Life Scotland works with schools to allow children to reconnect with food and where it comes from. Food for Life Scotland believes that good food should be the easy choice for everyone. This means that all children get to learn to grow, prepare, cook and share good food to improve their school food experience. Working in partnership with schools can guarantee children eat at least one healthy meal a day, and that children learn where food comes from and are more connected to the food that they are eating. Evidence from our Food for Life programme tells us that a fresh and healthy school meal, like the ones we certify, can contribute to closing the gap for disadvantaged children, both in terms of their health and academic attainment (Teeman et al, 2011).

We know that pupils in Food for Life schools are twice as likely to eat 5 or more portions of fruit/veg per day (Jones et al, 2015). Not only that, when children eat more fruit and veg, so do their parents - 45% of parents reported eating more fruit and vegetables as a result of their engagement in Food for Life (Orme et al, 2011). Getting seasonal, sustainable Scottish food on the menu is not only good for waistlines; it’s good for the economy. Evidence shows that the Food for Life approach offers £4.41 of social value for every £1 invested over a three-year period (Jones et al, 2015).

Aoife Behan, our Policy Manager & Acting Food for Life Programme Manager in Scotland commented:

“This report contains shocking statistics. It confirms once again that children living in the most deprived areas have significantly worse health than those in the least deprived. We know that the more deprived a child is, the higher the risk of obesity. Tackling these food-related inequalities is one of today’s most pressing challenges if we are to combat obesity and diet-related ill-health. The public sector is uniquely placed to help solve this problem.

Through our Food for Life programme, we know that many Scottish schools are making great strides. Over a third of Scottish Local Authorities serve meals certified by the Soil Association’s Food for Life programme which is an independent guarantee that food is fresh, traceable and meets nutritional guidelines. Yet many more schools struggle to get good food on the menu. When austerity hits, the food budget is often the first to be cut which signals a return to cheap, processed food. This is just storing up costly public health problems for the future. Over the past ten years 83,000 Scottish children started primary school overweight or obese. This public health crisis needs to be dealt with now. We know that the school dinner plate can provide some solutions.

We believe with support and leadership from government, and clear prioritisation of good food that high quality food is achievable in Scotland’s school kitchens. Serving fresh and healthy school meals can not only make a real difference to our children’s health, but can play a key role in contributing to Scotland’s economy. It’s time to get good food on the menu in all schools. If the government can achieve this, it will achieve its vision for Scotland: a prosperous nation where every individual has true equality of opportunity.”