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Response to Consultation on ‘Restricting Promotions of Food and Drink High in Fat, Sugar or Salt’

May 2024 

Established by the Commissioner for Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2003, the Commissioner is responsible for promoting and safeguarding the rights of all children and young people in Scotland, giving particular attention to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). The Commissioner has powers to review law, policy and practice and to take action to promote and protect rights. The Commissioner is fully independent of the Scottish Government. 

We welcome the policy intention of the proposed regulations restricting the promotion of food and drink high in fat, sugar and salt. However, policy makers must ensure these restrictions do not lead to unintended and negative consequences. We are especially concerned about the potential impact on children and young people in families experiencing poverty. Without a focus on making affordable healthy and nutritious food available for families, these policies could have a negative effect on families already experiencing poverty.

Children have the right to the ‘highest attainable’ standard of health and the provision of ‘adequate nutritious foods’ under Article 24(2)(c) of the UNCRC. Under Article 27 they also have the right to a standard of living adequate for the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development. States are required to assist parents and others responsible for the child to implement this right and provide material assistance and support programmes, particularly with regard to nutrition, clothing and housing. Children therefore have not only a ‘right to food’, but to healthy, nutritious and affordable food.

Children’s right to food must also be understood in the context of the full range of rights contained within the UNCRC. The following are particularly relevant:

  • Article 2 – protection against discrimination.
  • Article 6 – right to life.
  • Article 23 – rights of disabled children.
  • Article 36 – protection against forms of exploitation prejudicial to any aspects of the child’s welfare.

The proposed legislation supports these rights by restricting deals that encourage people to buy ‘unhealthy’ foods which are high in fat, sugar, and salt. When these foods form a larger part of a child or young person’s diet they are linked to poorer health outcomes.

The Scottish Government has committed to reduce the rate of childhood obesity to 7%; however, the most recent data indicates that 18% of Scottish children are obese.[1] Obesity in childhood is associated with an increased risk of obesity in adulthood. It is also linked to serious chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. Reducing obesity is an important measure to support children’s right to the highest attainable standard of health.

One quarter of children in Scotland live in poverty and many experience food poverty.[2] Food poverty is defined as ‘the inability to acquire or consume an adequate or sufficient quantity of food in socially acceptable ways, or the uncertainty that one will be able to do so’.[3] It is severely detrimental to the physical and psychological wellbeing of a child and can impact on their education, development and future prospects.[4] Food poverty is entirely preventable and results from wider environmental and socio-economic factors.[5] It is important that measures taken by the government to restrict the amount of ‘unhealthy’ foods available are seen in the wider context of child poverty in Scotland.

We are concerned about the disproportionate effects the current proposals could have on children and young people experiencing poverty. Many families rely on these deals to make family shopping more affordable, or to allow for occasional treats. Families in poverty are more likely to lack easy access to affordable nutritious food, if they live in a community not served by major supermarkets and are reliant either on smaller local shops with limited range and higher prices, paying a poverty premium.[6] This affects families in both rural and urban areas.[7] These restrictions may also disproportionately impact disabled children, including those who are autistic or have other forms of neurodivergence, who may eat restricted diets.[8] Fuel poverty is also a relevant factor. Cooking healthy food from scratch requires gas and electricity. Many families are having to limit how much energy they use for cooking, by buying pre-cooked or quick cook options, many of which are higher in fat, sugar and salt.

Healthy foods are generally more expensive options. ‘Healthy’ foods are over twice as expensive per calory than less ‘healthy’ foods. The fifth of the population experiencing the highest levels of deprivation would need to spend 50% of their disposable income on food to meet the needs of the governments recommended healthy diet – but just the least deprived need to spend just 11%.[9]

In 2022, The Poverty Alliance were commissioned by the Scottish Government to run workshops asking participants living on lower incomes about their views on the proposed restrictions.[10] These workshops were run in rural and urban environments. the workshops raised several concerns that participants had. Whilst they were generally supportive of the intentions behind the policy, they raised concerns which we also share. Overall, there was concern that restricting promotions would increase the cost of shopping during a time of intense food price inflation. The majority of participants stated that they rarely found healthier foods on promotions, and it was seen that without corresponding policies to increase promotions and lower prices on ‘healthy’ foods there was a risk of deepening the levels of food poverty experienced by those on low income. Without having any effect to encourage healthier eating.

“Unless they’re gonna bring the prices down on healthy options then what are we gonna eat? We’re not gonna be able to eat as we can’t afford it. No one wants to eat beans on toast, but you have to if it’s all you can afford.’ (Participant in Poverty Alliance Workshop)

“No one likes making lots of choices when you’re in poverty, its forced on us.” (Participant in Poverty Alliance Workshop)

Lack of facilities to cook is also a factor, especially for those living in temporary accommodation. At present some 10,000 children are living in temporary accommodation, this includes living in hotels where there is no access to cooking facilities. People with no recourse to public funds and those in managed accommodation for asylum seekers can often be in this situation which further compounds the difficulties they experience by having an extremely limited income.[11]

The skills and ability to cook healthier food options is also a consideration. We often see negative reports in the media, or statements from politicians, that people from poorer households are ‘unable or unwilling’ to cook. A recent study found that there are in fact few differences in cooking ability based on socio-economic factors.[12] Therefore this can again be seen as part of a poverty premium of lower income families having to pay more for goods and services including food. Wealthier families can afford more convenient food.

Much more needs to be done to understand drivers and causes of food poverty in Scotland. It is claimed that promotions on food and drink high in fat, sugar and salt, are designed to make us buy more, making purchases we would not have made without the promotion.[13] This is challenged by the findings of the Poverty Alliance workshops and the lived experience of those on lower incomes. Most participants stated that they only used promotions on items they were already planning on buying. Families on lower incomes will often meticulously plan their shopping ahead of time and shop around for deals, rather than making spontaneous buys. It is essential that this is properly understood before the proposals contained within this consultation are implemented.

“You’re addressing the wrong issue, it’s not promotions on less-healthy foods that’s the problem, it’s not being able to afford healthy food, you’re not going to fix it by making us unable to afford anything.” (Participant in Poverty Alliance Workshop)


[1] What does the new UK Government legislation on unhealthy food promotions mean for public health? | SPECTRUM Consortium (ed.ac.uk)

[2] Poverty in Scotland – Poverty & Inequality Commission (povertyinequality.scot)

[3] Food poverty – Poverty – Fundamental causes – Health inequalities – Public Health Scotland

[4] Food poverty – Poverty – Fundamental causes – Health inequalities – Public Health Scotland

[5] Position statement on food poverty (healthscotland.scot)

[6] Quick Read: The poverty premium in 2022 – Progress and problems (barrowcadbury.org.uk)

[7] BBC. 2024. No supermarket for Castlemilk despite promises. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/articles/crgyg08q2q1o

[8] NHS Education for Scotland. The Impact of ASN – diet and nutrition. https://asd.nes.scot.nhs.uk/1138

[9] TFF_At a glance.pdf (foodfoundation.org.uk), It’s time to put health first: Transforming our food environment (publichealthscotland.scot)

[10] Findings included in ‘Get Heard Scotland – Public Health Lived Experience Workshops’ (2022) – available on request

[11] CYPCS, 2023. Sometimes I feel like I am in prison. https://www.cypcs.org.uk/news-and-stories/housing-children-in-hotels-violates-human-rights-and-is-dangerous-exacerbates-trauma-and-can-damage-health-says-childrens-commissioner/

[12] Prevalence and socio-demographic correlates of cooking skills in UK adults: cross-sectional analysis of data from the UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey | International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity | Full Text (biomedcentral.com)

[13]  It’s time to put health first: Transforming our food environment (publichealthscotland.scot)


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