A review, published today by NHS Health Scotland, studies the impact of promotions on high fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) food and drink on consumer purchasing and consumption behaviour, and the impact of retail based interventions on promotions.

Obesity in Scotland is one of the main contributors to physical and mental illnesses such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, depression and thirteen cancers.  Overweight and obesity now affect the majority of adults and a significant proportion of children.  In 2016, two thirds (65%) of adults were overweight including 29% who are obese and just over one in four (29%) children were at risk of being overweight, including 14% at risk of obesity. 

Changes to the environments which determine what people buy and what people eat are needed to help prevent excess weight gain, and to support individuals to maintain a healthy weight.

The review found that consumer spending on price promotions in the UK is the highest in Europe. Temporary price reductions are the most prevalent form of promotion in Scotland, multi-buy type price promotions tend to be more common for HFSS compared to healthier food and drink and the uptake of promotions on HFSS foods is much higher than for promotions on foods that support a healthy diet. Price promotions increase the volume of food and drink purchased in Scotland with multi-buy type promotions driving the biggest increases in volume purchased.

Uptake of price promotions is around 40% of energy intakes for all Scottish population groups. This suggests that restrictions on promotions of HFSS foods and drinks are likely to affect purchasing behaviour regardless of level of deprivation or income.

Dr Andrew Fraser, Director of Public Health Science, NHS Health Scotland said:

“We have a major problem on our hands, with poor diet and overweight across Scotland. This has serious health and social consequences, particularly for people who face the greatest problems in ensuring a healthier future anyway; we have to consider actions and ambitions that are in proportion to the scale of the problem. We know from a growing body of evidence that interventions that change an element of everyone’s living and working conditions, such as restrictions on the promotion of HFSS foods, are more likely to be effective and fair for people across privileged or relatively disadvantaged groups.

“Food and drink promotions can encourage us to make unplanned purchases. They lead to additional expenditure that may further squeeze the budgets of households who already have trouble paying their bills. Minimising promotions could ease the financial pressures and make healthy food and drink choices the easier choices for hard-pressed households.”