LEGISLATION aimed at curbing obesity by banning discount deals on junk food in Scotland has been shelved as a result of the "significant impact" of Covid on retailers.

The Scottish Government had committed to introducing the landmark Bill between September and the next Scottish Parliament elections - due to take place on May 6 2021.

However, public health minister Joe Fitzpatrick confirmed that it has now been "paused" and it will not be tabled before the election.

Ms Fitzpatrick said the delay "provides us with an opportunity to take stock".

READ MORE: Jamie Oliver hails Scotland's junk food plan as 'example to the world' 

He said "It enables us to take into account the impact of the Covid-19 lockdown, including on people’s diet and healthy weight.

"We will be able to consider fully whether a more wide-ranging Bill is required to tackle Scotland’s diet and weight problem after the pandemic."

Public health campaigners said it was disappointing in light of growing evidence that people who are overweight or obese are at increased risk of developing serious and fatal complications from the virus.

Obesity Action Scotland, a lobby group of public health experts, epidemiologists and clinicians which receives funding from the Scottish Government, said the legislation would have dealt a blow to the "ubiquitous promotion" of foods high in fat, sugar and salt.

Lorraine Tulloch, its programme lead, said: "While I understand that the food environment in Scotland has changed radically during the pandemic it has also become increasingly clear that people with obesity have had much worse outcomes from Covid-19, with an increased risk of being admitted to intensive care and of dying.

"If we want to secure the health, resilience and longevity of the people of Scotland then tackling overweight and obesity must be a priority.

"Obesity Action Scotland called on Scottish Government to redouble its efforts to tackle obesity in the recovery phase and this step will hold up progress.

"I would urge the Scottish Government to re-introduce this measure as soon as possible.

"The most effective way to prevent obesity is to improve the food environment including restricting promotions on unhealthy foods and restricting the wider advertising and marketing of these products.”

READ MORE: Meal deal options to be limited in obesity crackdown

Professor Linda Bauld, Cancer Research UK’s cancer prevention expert, based at Edinburgh University, said the Scottish Government must set out a new "firm commitment and clear timeline" for the legislation.

She added: “Junk food price promotions encourage shoppers to stock up on unhealthy items so it’s vital we see progress to restrict these harmful offers.

“Obesity is linked to 13 types of cancer. It’s also the second biggest preventable cause of cancer after smoking. Tackling obesity is crucial if we’re to protect the health of future generations.

“One of the consequences of lockdown has also been that some people are eating more and moving less. There’s also worrying evidence that suggests that Covid-19 affects those who are obese more severely."

The Bill on Restricting Foods Promotions was expected to curtail multibuy offers such as buy-one-get-one-free on items such as confectionary, crisps, cakes, and other calorie-packed foods.

Promotional displays at checkouts and the end of aisles would also have been restricted.

Other outlets, such as restaurants, takeaways, cafes and cinemas, could also have faced new rules on meal deals, limiting portion sizes, and requirements to provide calorie information.

If passed, Scotland would have been the first country in the world to bring in such laws, but there were warnings it would be "devastating" for smaller businesses.

Mr Fitzpatrick said the Scottish Government remains "fully committed" to the restrictions, but stressed that the pandemic "has had a significant impact, including on the food and drink and retail industries and on consumer behaviour".

He said: "It is not yet clear what its long term impact will be. It is important we understand this fully and that we assess the economic and equality impacts of our proposed measures post-pandemic."

He added: "We remain fully committed to restricting the promotion and marketing of foods high in fat, sugar or salt where they are sold to the public and will seek to progress this measure as soon as it is possible to do so.

"Work already underway to further improve the evidence base to underpin the proposals will continue."

David Thomson, CEO of Food and Drink Federation Scotland, welcomed the delay.

He said: “The Scottish Government has listened to FDF Scotland and our members’ concerns that these proposals would have had a devastating economic impact on smaller Scottish food businesses, who sell the majority of their products in Scotland.

“Our food and drink manufacturers are facing increasingly difficult times due to the impact of the coronavirus crisis, as well as the uncertainty around the UK’s future trade deals with the EU and further afield."