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Action needed to improve Scottish diet

A report produced by Leigh Sparks, Professor of Retail Studies, and Steve Burt, Professor of Retail Marketing, at Stirling University and commissioned by Food Standards Scotland, has examined how the retail food sector can be transformed to encourage shoppers to consume healthier products [6].

The authors explain that the environment confronting consumers is not a neutral one, allowing ‘free choice’. Promotions and product information shape consumers’ choices and behaviours. They often favour unhealthy products over healthy ones. Consumers are attracted to, and purchase, these products above others, often on promotion and often in bulk sizes far beyond immediate consumption needs.

The report concludes that voluntary initiatives and ‘simple’ healthy promotion have failed and that it is time to consider a range of actions to alter the architecture of in-store choice. There is a need to understand and adjust the retail environment presented to customers in-store, as this drives choice decisions.

The report recommended:

• Regulation of product pack displays, pricing and promotions – to make it simpler for consumers to make healthier choices

• Levies on salt, fat and sugar – similar to the ‘Soft Drinks Industry Levy’ – to encourage reformulation and resizing of food products

• Funding for trials to establish which interventions work best

• Introduction of a ‘Food Retail Standard’ – similar to the ‘Healthcare Retail Standard’ – to regulate product promotions

• Measures to be required by all food consumption and purchasing outlets – not just by food retailers.

Professor Sparks considers that action is needed to tackle this growing health issue. The Scottish diet has become a short-hand for unhealthy living. All the evidence points to its stubborn lack of change, despite information, exhortation, campaigns and even small measures of legislation. Although good progress has been made by some retailers, a level playing field is needed to allow both retailers and out of home businesses to redress the imbalance of promotions and provision of less healthy foods.



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