At a Scottish Food and Drink Federation conference in Dundee, Fergus Millan, branch head of the Scottish government's food and health team, said he favoured a voluntary approach to tackling poor diets, but added: "In 10 years if that hasn't worked, we may have to look at something else."
He made the comments at a panel session when he was asked whether food tax was realistic as a means of encouraging healthy eating. This followed a speech by Jane Landon, deputy chief executive of the National Heart Forum. She said a so-called 'soda tax' had been implemented in the US states of California and Pennsylvania. "It's a mixture of taxes and subsidies," she said.
"Taxes have been used for social and health purposes, such as duties and levies on alcohol and tobacco, and we use the revenues for public health purposes," she added. However, she failed to point to evidence confirming their effectiveness in persuading consumers to lead healthier lives.
Eating too much
Structural changes to the way food was produced needed to occur, as the Common Agricultural Policy had led to overproduction of sugar and butter, leading to sugary and fatty foods, said Landon. In addition, the retail price of fruit and vegetables had grown more than sugary soft drinks and that needed to be addressed.
A major cause of obesity and other health issues with strong links to poor diet was that people were simply eating too much, she added. Acting on that issue alone would have a massive impact on the grocery sector. "The 'eat less' message is going to be very challenging for industry."
The Scottish government would establish a food implementation group later this year to crack down on the obesity problem in Scotland, delegates at the conference heard.
The group would focus on a range of issues such as reformulation and portion size, said Millan.
Out of a total of 58 lifestyle-related action points hammered out at a Scottish government working group meeting in March, 16 related to energy intake and 20 to calorie expenditure. A further 12 were connected to working on educating young children and 10 concerned changing the workplace environment.