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Food for thought on Games menus

The pre-publicity for catering the 2014 Commonwealth Games sounded all the right notes.

Glasgow would help shake off Scotland's dismal reputation for unhealthy, fat-laden food, we were told. Athletes and spectators alike would have their eyes opened to the best of Scottish fare.

Instead of the pies and chips and other deep-fried goods, visitors to the city would be offered seasonal healthy food, made from ingredients that were fresh, accredited and sustainable.

Food czars were appointed for the Games, while companies were invited to tender with requirements to source food from local suppliers.

The claim was that 6,500 athletes, their families and team officials, a million spectators, international media and sponsors, plus 15,000 volunteers would have the chance to sample world-class Scottish catering.

The reality fell somewhat short. ­Glasgow's director of public health, Linda de Caestecker, today describes it as a missed opportunity, with only a token effort made in some venues and some advertised products unavailable.

Some competitors complained that the food in the Athletes' Village lacked seasoning and variety. Those who had been at London's Olympics compared it unfavourably with the Asian food village and other offerings in 2012, and said provision at the Delhi games four years ago had also been better.

Meanwhile, in several venues, ­spectators found that long menus of choices - healthy and otherwise - were more fantasy than fact. Fans were told healthy options had "run out" at 11.30 in the morning, at stadia expecting to house tens of thousands of fans until nightfall.

Healthy Scottish food may have been on offer elsewhere, but was far from visible at venues such as Ibrox and Hampden where traditional burgers, hot dogs and chips were rather more obvious.

Who is to blame? The public, partly, perhaps, because habits are hard to shift. Perhaps the queues for fish and chips and other junk food were evidence of choice in action, as Games organisers suggest. But the suspicion is that, within the venues themselves, lip service was paid to the concept. This was not inevitable. It was clear in the live zones and festival areas that people readily opted for more nutritious offerings where they were available.

Bold claims about the legacy of ­sporting events and sporting take-up are often overstated. There is evidence any effect is short-lived, so every chance to make an impact should be taken.

Glasgow and the West of Scotland have a poor public health record and a growing obesity crisis, the solutions to which are an improved diet and increased levels of activity.

The Games handed the city an ­opportunity to promote healthy living and organisers did so, laying on an inspiring event and successfully encouraging thousands of people to get around by walking and cycling. Use of public transport, which also challenges sedentary lifestyles, was encouraged.

However, the chance to contribute to a culture shift, by promoting a healthy diet and persuading people to try something new, was missed. When the legacy of Glasgow 2014 is assessed, this is an area where lessons should be learned.

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