THE Oxford dictionary defines nanny state as “a government regarded as overprotective or as interfering unduly with personal choice”. However, we should ask: what do they want to protect people from and why would they interfere?

A fine example of such nanny-state interventions are the actions taken to minimise the use of tobacco (ie taxes, a ban on TV advertising, a ban of smoking in public places, health warnings on packaging). As a result of these interventions the percent of people who smoke went down from around 60 per cent in 1950s to below 20 per cent today. Interventions translated into millions of lives saved.

Today the majority of the Scottish population have excess weight, which is followed by the burden of obesity-related diseases like cancer, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, shorter lives, worse quality of life, and a growing cost to the wider economy.

Anyone who thinks that the government interferes unduly with personal choice should have an honest think about what and who else is currently interfering with our choice. What is making 65 per cent of the Scottish population choose a diet that makes them overweight and obese?

Why would Scotland have such different obesity and health records than, say, Sweden or Japan? Our physiologies or will power are not different, but our food environment is different. The environment around us shapes our choices everyday.

What we eat depends on what’s on shop shelves and what’s on special offer in the shops; what we recognise from home, friends, TV, media; how easy it is to get to certain shops or restaurants; and how much time we have. If we take a step back, it should be clear that our food environment and food system strongly influence our diet.

We need to see and understand the whole picture. Telling a child to drink water will never work if the child never sees anyone else doing it, if there are no water fountains at school and public places, and water is more expensive than sugary drinks.

If we are serious about improving our diet and our health, we need to take a good look at our food environment and food system. The Good Food Nation Bill gives us the opportunity to do this: with clever and brave actions we can achieve much more than improved diet and health in Scotland.

Dr Anna Gryka
Policy Officer, Obesity Action Scotland