Deep-Fried Candy Bars: Scotland's Worst Food?

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"Encouragingly, we did also find some evidence of the penetration of the Mediterranean diet into Scotland, albeit in the form of deep-fried pizza," said Petticrew, director of the social and public health services unit of the UK Medical Research Council, a government health research body.

Morrison said this fried-food culture probably has its roots in the industrial revolution, when there was mass migration to cities from rural areas.

The shift "resulted in a loss of much of the indigenous food culture. Much of Scotland's indigenous food is very healthy—oats, root vegetables, venison, fish, and seafood," Morrison said. "Heavy industry and labor demands eating a lot of calories, and fatty food is a good and cheap source. Deep-frying also kills bacteria and viruses, making it a relatively safe food."

Morrison noted that in the 18th and 19th centuries Scotland's fortunes were built on importing sugar, among other commodities. "This is likely to have given us our predilection for sweet food," he said.

Scotland records among the highest rates of heart disease, cancer, and strokes in the developed world, according to official figures. Residents also have the lowest life expectancy.

A major report for Scotland's Chief Medical Officer, which looked at the relationship between diet and disease, stated that Scots have the highest premature death rates from coronary heart disease in the world.

Meanwhile, the Public Health Institute for Scotland found that in 1998, 62 percent of men and 54 percent of women were either overweight or obese.

Morrison said there's a duty for the National Health Service and other public bodies to inform and educate the population about what constitutes a healthier diet.

"Poor Diet"

Speaking last month, Scotland's First Minister, Jack McConnell, admitted that such efforts need to be stepped up.

"In comparison with the rest of the UK, with Europe, and with too many countries worldwide, our mortality and morbidity rates across far too many indicators are lamentable," he said. "Poor diet, excessive drinking, lack of exercise, and drug abuse all contribute to making us one of the unhealthiest nations in Europe."

McConnell claims some progress has already been made, noting that investment in public health since 1999 has cut death rates from heart disease by 14 percent.

However, a new report, published earlier this month by Scotland's National Health Service, suggests that levels of obesity in children is still rising. It states: "By the school year ending 2002, 30 percent of 13- to 15-year-olds were estimated to be overweight—this was double the expected number."

And it's these youngsters who appear most susceptible to the delights of the deep-fried Mars bar, according to Petticrew, the study co-author. He said 76 percent of Mars bars were sold to children, and 15 percent to teenagers. "Sixteen percent of shops said they were more likely to sell them during school term," he added.

Kevin McIndoe, a Glasgow newspaper journalist, said he has yet to come across the infamous dish in the city's chip shops. "If they do a deep-fried Mar bar, it's not something they put on the menu," he added.

However, McIndoe, 38, does admit to having a soft spot for the odd battered sausage and deep-fried black pudding.

Despite the Mars bar study, McIndoe said he feels the Scots' reputation as unhealthy eaters is overexaggerated. He added, "It's a bit like me saying everyone in London likes jellied eels."

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