THE head of Scotland’s food watchdog agency has issued a stark warning that the obesity crisis will be this generation's equivalent of tobacco in causing disease and premature deaths.

Geoff Ogle, chief executive of Food Standards Scotland (FSS), said shocking statistics which predict 40% obesity levels in Scotland in just 15 years’ time should be a wake-up call for everyone to get serious about tackling the problem.

He said it is possible to reverse the trend like smoking - but warned there was no single solution and everyone from individuals and parents to retailers and government had to take action now.

Ogle said tobacco was a good analogy of the health consequences this generation is facing due to obesity. Poor diet is linked to an increased risk of a range of health problems including diabetes, heart disease, stroke and certain cancers.

He said: “If you look at where tobacco was in the 1940s and 1950s, it was cool and ‘chic’ then to smoke. I don’t think anyone would argue it is cool and ‘chic’ to smoke now.

“In the 1940s and 1950s, you didn’t really have much understanding of the health consequences of smoking, it was starting to emerge.

“Now everyone clearly understands the health consequences of smoking. I think there are analogies where you can show that society’s attitude will change over time.

“The issue is really where is the tipping point which says we have got to do something, and for me, having 40% obesity levels projected in 15 years’ time – if that is not a tipping point, then I don’t know what is.”

He added: "It is a national issue that is going to span more than one parliamentary lifetime and is clearly now affecting multiple generations.

“We are now facing the prospect where children could possibly be facing a lower life expectancy than their parents.”

Ogle said there was a “clear contradiction” between statistics which show three-quarters of Scots say they have a healthy diet – but two-thirds are overweight or obese.

He said one approach the FSS was now considering was looking at more targeted approach to advice for different groups – for example, while the consumption of too much sugar is the main issue in more deprived areas, in more affluent areas the issue it is too much fat.

But he said: “You do need changes from industry, you do need education, you do need government intervention and you do need parents acting differently. You need all of those things and you have to tackle it on a wide range of fronts.

“I am not sure you can point at any particular thing and say that is where the blame lies.

“You can certainly say there are issues around promotion of high fat, salt and sugar products and issues around the amount of sugar in some products – why does a pasta sauce have so much sugar in it?

“You can educate a parent and they say okay I will cook some spaghetti bolognese: pasta and mince is good - but they then stick a pasta sauce over it not knowing it has ten spoons of sugar in it.”

In January this year the FSS, which advises the Scottish Government on nutrition, said retailers and manufacturers should be given 12 months to come up with ways to cut the quantities of sweet food and drink Scots purchase – or face a sugar tax.

Ogle pointed out a balanced diet did not mean having to cut out biscuits or sweets forever.

But he added: “I think with these high fat, salt and sugar products we have in effect become a kind of 'treat society' – we are treating ourselves far too often and then we are not doing anything in terms of energy expended to compensate for that treat.”

Debbie Provan, spokeswoman for the British Dietetic Association, the professional association for dieticians, said addressing obesity was similar to tackling smoking in that it was more complex than simply blaming individuals.

She said: “There is a lot of negative stigma which is associated around weight and that sometimes isn’t helpful and can perpetuate the cycle, particularly when there is a lot of behavioural issues and psychological issues at an individual level.

“We need to look at everything from education to opportunities to be physically active to how we produce food, how we market food and how we view food.”

Professor David Haslam, chair of the National Obesity Forum, which last week published a controversial report arguing against low-fat diets, said the obesity epidemic will “inevitably” be followed be epidemics of diabetes, liver disease, certain cancers and premature death.

He said: “What governments have been doing over the last 30 years, whilst overseeing the increase in excess weight and co-morbidity, is, in essence 'fiddling while Rome burns'.

“Obesity treatment rather than prevention is crucial, and something new needs to be proposed, unless obesity is to bankrupt health services."

Minister for public health and sport Aileen Campbell said obesity was a complex issue linked to many lifestyle factors which required action on “many fronts”.

She added: “We are investing in physical activity projects, working with the food and drink sector to encourage healthier choices and healthier recipes, and running a number of campaigns and initiatives to promote healthy eating.

“We continue to work closely with Food Standards Scotland.”