The fat of the land – Scotland’s big profits and bigger bellies

by Scott Douglas

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

Customers stand in line outside Scotland's only Krispy Kreme outletA version of this post first appeared in the Daily Record’s Edinburgh Now supplement.

Whatever way you serve it up, Krispy Kreme has a very tasty business in Edinburgh.

The US chain has flogged a belly-busting five million doughnuts since opening its first Scottish outlet just six months ago, the equivalent of shifting a ring-shaped treat every three seconds.

News of Krispy Kreme’s highly profitable success broke just a week after the BBC aired a documentary called Scotland The Fat, asking why we are the second most obese nation on earth, waddling in only just behind the US.

The food business is a B-I-G money making concern – and it’s getting bigger. Unfortunately, so are its customers.

Government figures show 28% of Scots over 16 are obese. As a result we are sitting on a ticking timebomb of related medical conditions including diabetes, heart disease, cancer and even dementia.

Almost as hefty is the tab to be picked up. The main strain will be felt in the NHS, already buckling under the weight. But Scottish businesses will be shouldering the burden too and lost productivity and absenteeism will be only part of it.

There are four main pillars to the Scottish Government’s long term strategy to tackle obesity and one of them is “increasing the responsibility of organisations for the health and wellbeing of their employees”.

Will Edinburgh businesses be expected to take on a role as nutrition advisers, recipe providers and kitchen educators? Who knows, as the details are still sketchy.

How exactly did we get here? Historically Scotland was a lean nation subsisting on a diet built round small amounts of meat or fish, supplemented with oats, potato, barley, turnip and onion.

Despite serving up an estimated 1.5 billion calories to Scots in just six months, Krispy Kreme can’t be blamed for our obesity problem; it’s a new kid on a block that was already well-settled by Greggs doughnuts, Mars Bars and Tunnock’s Tea Cakes.

Likewise, Krispy Kreme point out that its doughnuts are meant as an occasional treat and that the average customer visits just once every two months.

That’s a refrain most of us are familiar with after decades of health messages that sweet, sugary of fattening foods should be enjoyed in moderation as part of a healthy and balanced diet.

Is there really anybody over the age of 10 in Scotland who doesn’t understand the waist-expanding, artery-clogging side effects of scoffing too many sweets, cakes and confections?

Trouble is that a “healthy and balanced” diet is elusive as it becomes increasingly difficult to identify what might qualify as junk food.

Doughnuts may seem a fitting poster food for the obese generation, but a greater threat to the nation’s waistband is far more insidious: the normal, day-to-day food and drink which are stealthily packed with dangerous amounts of refined sugar or other health-threatening additives.

All of which means the surest way to a healthy diet remains to buy all ingredients fresh and make every meal from scratch.

Cook? From scratch?

You’d have more luck asking the majority of Scots to explain the exact chemical formula of high fructose corn syrup, according to research carried out as part of the BBC documentary.

The MORI research showed 55 per cent of Scots eat ready meals or takeaways at least three nights per week. In deprived areas almost one in five of those asked (17 per cent) never cook an evening meal from scratch.

I’m as guilty as anyone. It might have been a ringing bell that set Pavlov’s dogs slavering, but the ping of a microwave has the same effect on me. It took a series of roly poly photographs to convince me I had to kick my microwave curry habit.

Viewers of the BBC documentary also heard from an Ayrshire and Arran Health Board adviser who teaches people how to cook simple, healthy meals. Many of those she worked with did not own an oven and had never peeled an onion.

Another depressing sight in the programme was of crowds on their way to a football match unable to identify simple fruit and veg, including pineapple and butternut squash.

Let’s look again at the ingredients – an additive-addicted processed food industry; a can’t-cook-won’t-cook attitude in a population pressed for time and hooked on convenience; widespread ignorance about food provenance.

On top of that you can throw in the supersizing of portions and increasingly sedentary lifestyles.

What we now know for sure is that it’s a recipe for disaster.


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