A healthy life in Scotland

The Nesta Scotland team has the opportunity to design, test and scale projects and develop innovations that are specific to Scotland and that respond to the challenges, opportunities and environment of the Scottish context.

Our team in Scotland works with partners and projects, identifying ways to work together to try new and different ideas, reflecting the distinct political, cultural and economic landscape.

Scotland has the highest obesity levels of all UK nations with 67% of adults either overweight or living with obesity. We also have the largest gap in obesity prevalence between the most and least deprived at 38% and 22% respectively. Linked to 23% of deaths and contributing to chronic illnesses such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease, obesity is the leading cause of death in Scotland.

Although the proportion of the Scottish population living with obesity has not increased notably since 2008, people have got heavier in that time and research predicts a rise in obesity rates amongst the 16-64 age group in Scotland to 41% in 2030, making it more difficult for us to reach our mission goal.

The total annual cost to the Scottish economy of excess weight and obesity, including labor market-related costs such as lost productivity, is potentially as much as £4.6 billion.

Significant policy levers, relevant to our mission are devolved in Scotland, including:

  • health, social care and public health
  • planning, local government and transportation
  • food standards, labeling and agriculture.

Devolution provides opportunities for a range of policy measures to be introduced in Scotland that can help tackle obesity and support a healthier food environment.

The Scottish Government has already committed to introducing a range of policies and meeting targets to halve childhood obesity by 2030. They have demonstrated a willingness to progress policies that the UK Government has delayed or are reconsidering. The political climate in Scotland therefore provides opportunities to design, test and scale innovative and impactful solutions to help tackle obesity.

Given the above context we are focusing our work in Scotland in the following areas.

Building the evidence base

The Scottish Government has committed to a range of ambitious policies such as passing the Good Food Nation (Scotland) Act 2022, opening consultations on mandatory calorie labeling and restricting promotions of food and drink high in fat, sugar or salt and developing the Eating Out, Eating Well Framework. However, these are unlikely to turn the tide on obesity in isolation. Better evidence is needed to create even more ambitious legislation and policies, fill in the existing gaps and advocate for more radical change. Nesta is in a good position to contribute timely and useful evidence on what we eat, why we eat it and ultimately how improving food environments can increase the accessibility and affordability of healthier food.

We’ve already looked at the impact of calorie labeling on takeaway apps and identified foods that could be reformulated to reduce calorie content. We are also conducting research with food outlets to understand the barriers to promoting healthier products, testing the effects of different promotions with retailers and doing a deep dive on the economic and social costs to Scotland of obesity.

Drawing on our expertise in data analytics, design, behavioral science and evidence and experimentation we aim to continue working with national partners to produce high-quality, relevant and impactful evidence that supports systemic change.

Support national policy development

Current resourcing and budgetary pressures have the potential to negatively impact new policy development and policy implementation, particularly in areas that are likely to attract resistance from industry. We aim to help support the development of innovative and effective policies that work to transform our food environment to become healthier. Whether it’s creating online simulations of food environments like our Playbox project or testing the public acceptability of different policy options, we plan to use our resources to add value to policy development and push for a more ambitious and effective policy environment in Scotland.

Improving access to healthy food locally

The 32 local authorities and 14 regional health boards in Scotland will soon be required to develop Good Food Nation Plans as part of the Good Food Nation Act. These plans will need to outline the organization’s policies in relation to improvements of the local food system and set out what they will do to make those plans real. They will also have to set out the outcomes to be achieved on food-related issues, the policies needed to achieve them and the measures used to assess progress.

The Good Food Nation Plans, along with lessons from work to develop a whole-systems approach to tackling obesity, lay the foundation for local, innovative interventions to improve food environments. We aim to work with communities, industry, national and local partners to design, test and scale local solutions. Through these solutions we aim to increase the availability, accessibility and affordability of healthier food in local communities across Scotland.

We approach these issues with a combination of scientific rigor and creative ideas. We draw on our expertise in data analytics, behavioral science, design, arts and culture and collective intelligence to tackle these problems and opportunities.

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