Covid Scotland: Warning over childhood obesity as lockdown eating habits 'getting worse'

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Scotland is going in “completely the wrong direction” on childhood obesity, while poor eating habits picked up during lockdowns have continued, according to new reports.

Many changes in people’s diets reported in 2020, such as ordering takeaways and eating out of boredom, continued in 2021, according to a survey by Obesity Action Scotland (OAS).

OAS, which is funded by the Scottish Government and hosted by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, also found more than half of those on low incomes or furlough believed their weight had increased since the first lockdown.

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A separate survey of parents by Ipsos Scotland on behalf of OAS found 44 per cent thought they had gained weight since 2020, and 14 per cent thought the same of their child.

Scots ate more takeaway in 2021 than 2020, Obesity Action Scotland foundScots ate more takeaway in 2021 than 2020, Obesity Action Scotland found
Scots ate more takeaway in 2021 than 2020, Obesity Action Scotland found

OAS said this supported the most recent figures from Public Health Scotland about BMI of children in primary 1, which showed a significant increase in the rate of children at risk of obesity and being overweight.

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Lorraine Tulloch, programme lead of Obesity Action Scotland, said: “The Scottish Government has made a commitment to halve childhood obesity by 2030. However, we are heading in completely the wrong direction.

"All the signs are that control measures for the pandemic made a bad situation worse for children’s weight, for the diet of families, and for inequalities in health across a range of conditions.”

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She added: "We urgently need bold, effective, progressive and sustained measures across governments, communities and places where we buy and consume food to get back on track in tackling this important issue.

“Many parents recognise their own weight has increased. This alongside the evidence of a concerning rise in primary 1 children at risk of obesity, makes it clear that families need support in being able to prevent unhealthy weight gain.”

A separate report from Food Standards Scotland (FSS) also released on Monday found 34 per cent of parents said their diet had become less healthy during the pandemic, while 17 per cent said their children’s had.

FSS said Brexit and climate change have also increased diets in the past two years.

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Dr Gillian Purdon, head of nutrition science and policy at FSS, said: “It’s been a difficult two years and we’re continuing to navigate the uncertain economic and social consequences of the coronavirus pandemic and wider global issues.

“During this time, many of us changed the way we eat. This latest report revealed that 88 per cent of adults in Scotland understand that an unhealthy diet can lead to poor health.

"From March 2020 with more time spent at home, snacking increased by over 30 per cent. Trips to takeaways also doubled largely due to the restrictions on the out-of-home market, which includes restaurants, cafes and pubs.”

Obesity Action Scotland carried out two polls of Scottish people about eating habits during the Covid pandemic – one in May 2020 and another in March 2021.

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Ipsos interviewed more than 1,000 parents and carers in November last year.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Addressing obesity remains a public health priority to ensure Scotland is a place where we eat well, have a healthy weight and are physically active.

"Our Diet and Healthy Weight Delivery Plan sets out ambitious and wide ranging action to address this challenge, including our aim to halve childhood obesity by 2030.”

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