A major change in the way shops promote and display unhealthy food and drink products is needed if Scots are to choose a healthier diet, according to research from Stirling University.
The study, commissioned by the Scottish government’s food watchdog Food Standards Scotland (FSS), sets out a number of recommendations that aim to discourage shoppers from choosing less healthy products.
These recommendations include the regulation of product pack displays, pricing and promotions; funding for trials to establish which interventions work best; and the introduction of levies on salt, fat and sugar.
The report also suggests a limit on opening hours for food retailers, similar to the current system of alcohol licensing hours.
The FSS has said that “unless we take action now”, the rate of obesity in Scotland will increase by a third to 40% by 2030. The watchdog has stated that the new report “enforces FSS’s view for the need for change in this sector and a retail revolution.”
Professor Leigh Sparks, co-author of the study with Professor Steve Burt, said that shops must take into account the psychological effects of their promotions: “The environment confronting consumers is not a neutral one, allowing ‘free choice’.
“Promotions and product information, especially, shape consumers’ choices and behaviours. Retailing is both part of the problem, but could be a major part of the solution.
“Voluntary initiatives and ‘simple’ healthy promotion have failed: the time to consider a range of actions to alter the architecture of in-store choice may now be upon us.”
FSS has previously found that in Scotland around 50% of less healthy food categories are purchased on promotion compared with around 30% of healthier foods.
Dr Gillian Purdon, Senior Dietary Advisor at FSS, said: “Food Standards Scotland welcomes this report as it reinforces our view that urgent action needs to be taken to encourage and influence healthier food and drink purchases in Scotland.
“We recognise the good progress made by some retailers, however 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.”
She added: ““It is clear that a combination of measures will be needed overall to enable healthier eating. Regulation of promotions of high fat, salt and/or sugar food and drink within retail stores and out of home premises should be taken forward as a priority.”