In Scotland, home of the deep-fried Mars bar, where the traditional diet is too heavy in fat, sugar and salt, people are 34 per cent more likely to die before the age of 65 than those south of the Border. A menu of 71 recommendations has been drawn up which will urge supermarkets, schools, the NHS and farmers to promote a healthier diet.
More than 2,600 people under 65 die each year from heart disease in Scotland, more than 4,000 from cancer and 700 from strokes.
"An unhealthy diet is a significant factor in many of these cases," said Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, the Scottish Health Minister. "We owe it to ourselves and our children to do what we can to reduce these dismal statistics and change the eating habits which have helped push us to the bottom rungs of the European health ladder."
The Scottish Diet Action Group, which includes nutritionists, doctors, local authorities, farmers and food retailers, has drawn up a blueprint which will target pregnant women, babies, small children and those on low incomes. The initiative will be funded by pounds 1m of new government money over the next three years.
Lord James said it was the most comprehensive action plan that had been drawn up to tackle Scotland's long-standing problems of unhealthy eating, and he urged consumers to "jump out of the frying pan into the fruit bowl".
He said the plan recognised that people could not be forced to eat what they did not want to. Instead, the group hoped to encourage supermarkets, food producers and suppliers, councils, caterers and retailers to promote healthy eating.
In autumn all households will be sent a mailshot which will give hints on healthy foods. Some of the money will pay for a national project officer to promote sensible eating in poor communities.
Advertisements will promote fruit, vegetables, leaner meat, cereal and fish and caterers will be trained to provide healthy options. And supermarkets will be urged to develop healthier products and put more informative labelling on foods.
Robert Kendall, Scotland's Chief Medical Officer, said that eating habits there had improved over the past 20 years. "There are fewer people living on Scotch [meat] pie and chips but we are still lagging behind the rest of Europe, and we do not need to."
He said one of the easiest ways of improving diet was for producers of canned and other processed food slowly to reduce the sugar and salt in their products, so that the public would not notice any difference.
Lord James said that progress would be monitored closely with the new Scottish health survey, which will track changes in eating habits over a 10-year period.
"The first survey is under way and will be published next spring," he said. "Further surveys will then follow at three-yearly intervals."Reuse content