OBESITY in Scotland should be tackled with similar policies used to crackdown on excess alcohol consumption, according to a paper which draws comparisons between heavy drinkers and the extremely overweight.

The proposal could pave the way to interventions such as minimum pricing for calorie dense items or bans on multi-buy junk food deals.

Research by NHS Health Scotland said there needs to be less emphasis on policies which "rely on individual agency to achieve change" and a greater focus on economic and legislative policies which lift the population as a whole out of an obesogenic environment where "relatively cheaper, energy dense foods are marketed relentlessly" and physical activity is no longer the "normal means of getting around and working".

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The paper states: "Parallels with other risks to health, such as those associated with alcohol, can clearly be drawn. In Scotland, at least, the strategy pursued in recent years has explicitly acknowledged the need for policies that target the heaviest drinkers (with the highest risk of harm) in conjunction with whole population approaches to reduce overall consumption...Adopting a similar approach for obesity, that simultaneously targets both the heaviest people and the population as a whole, is likely to be the most effective way to reduce obesity-related harm and reverse the trends."

The Scottish Government is seeking to bring in minimum pricing by unit for alcohol and has already banned retailers from promoting alcohol sales with multi-buy offers. Health campaigners have previously called for a similar crackdown on junk food deals.

The study, published today in the International Journal for Equity in Health, found that people living in Scotland's most-deprived areas are more likely to be obese than those in the most-affluent.

Although researchers found a general levelling off in obesity increase in recent years, children from the most deprived areas and people with the highest BMIS in the most deprived areas still appeared to be getting bigger - exacerbating health inequalities.

However, the researchers warned that the recent stabilisation in obesity trends might be explained "by the economic downturn and the implications that this has had for the affordability of food".

The proportion of overweight women in Scotland has almost doubled in twenty years - from 31 per cent in 1995 to to 60 per cent in 2015 - while the level of overweight men jumped by 26 per cent in the same period to 66 per cent.

Lorraine Tulloch, programme lead at Obesity Action Scotland, said: "This report clearly outlines that the most-deprived in our society are suffering the greatest burden of obesity.

"It also highlights that focusing on actions individuals can take only worsens the inequalities gap.

"If we want to ensure we tackle the gap, we need to see bold, ambitious action to change the food environment around us to ensure the healthy choice is the easy choice for everyone."

One of the report authors, Elaine Tod, a public health intelligence adviser with NHS Health Scotland, said: "Obesity used to be more common amongst the richer in society as it was only those who could afford to eat well who became obese.

"This trend has reversed and we now see higher rates of obesity in those who are less well-off."