DOZENS of leading health campaigners have called on the First Minister to make legislation restricting promotions on junk food a priority when parliament returns in September.

In a letter to Nicola Sturgeon, members of the Scottish Obesity Alliance said "urgent action" is needed to curb special offers that encourage shoppers to buy food and drink high that contains "excessive amounts of calories, fat, sugar and salt".

They added: "Multi-buy, temporary price reductions and extra free promotions all alter price perceptions and encourage people to buy a greater number of unhealthy products. Displays at checkouts prompt further impulse buys.

"Restriction is needed across all types of promotions on [high-fat, sugar, salt] products, but regulation to restrict multi-buy price promotions should be prioritised as a first step in a multi-stage approach.

"There is strong public support for a ban on junk food price promotion."

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The letter has been signed by 20 charities or research organisations, including Diabetes Scotland, Cancer Research UK and the Glasgow Centre for Population Health.

They want a commitment in this autumn's Programme for Government that ministers will back legislation that would make Scotland the first country in the world to ban junk food special offers.

Elma Murray OBE, chair of the Scottish Obesity Alliance, said “The Scottish Obesity Alliance have identified securing restrictions on multi-buy price promotions as one of the first actions that can be taken by the Scottish Government to work towards an ambition to reduce levels of overweight and obesity.

"It is therefore important that the new Programme for Government contains a commitment to make this a reality.”

Professor Steve Turner, Officer for Scotland for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) added: "More than 28 per cent of children in Scotland are overweight or obese. Research tells us that the food and drink children see strongly influences the food choices they make and how much they eat.

"With this in mind, it goes without saying, that in order to address Scotland's obesogenic environment Scottish Government must be bold in the restrictions it places on price promotion and marketing.”

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The Scottish Government carried out a consultation earlier this year on measures to tackle obesity, including restricting junk food deals.

It also proposed calorie caps on portions sold in takeaways, cinemas and restaurants, and mandatory calorie information on menus.

A spokesman for the Scottish Retail Consortium said retailers were already6 encouraging healthier choice through price promotions on fruit and vegetables, re-formulating products, and clear nutritional information.

He added: “We are keen to see a practical and flexible approach taken, one which allows exemptions for specific seasonal promotions, the promotion of healthier or new indigenous products within a category, and the promotion of products at the end of their shelf-life in order to minimise food waste.

"A large proportion of what we eat is consumed out-with the home, so any new restrictions must equally apply to other food businesses such as caterers, restaurants, hotels, and take-aways.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said it would publish the "ending our nation’s damaging relationship with junk food" was key to its obesity strategy. 

He added: "One of the ways we are seeking to do this is by restricting the promotion and marketing of some of discretionary foods high in fat, sugar or salt with little or no nutritional benefit.

“We have consulted on the steps to achieve this and our analysis will be published in the near future.”