A TOP doctor has suggested councils could work to attract healthier food outlets and manufacture to tackle the growing problem of obesity in Ayrshire.

Dr Ruth Campbell spoke out months after it was revealed that 70 per cent of Ayrshire residents were deemed to be overweight, with half of those falling into the obese category.

The consultant dietitian in public health nutrition, told Ayrshire and Arran Health Board that more effort was needed to be put in ‘upstream’ to improve the situation.

She said: “This is one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century. Doing nothing is not an option."

Her ideas were backed by East Ayrshire Council leader Douglas Reid - though he warned they might not be easy to implement.

Councillor Reid admitted that telling people to 'say no to a Killie Pie' would be a difficult message to send out to the public.

Dr Campbell said studies show that people in more deprived areas were more likely to be above a healthy weight.

She said that it was not enough to reactively treat the issue, pointing towards ways that authorities could support early intervention.

She said that the development of the Moorfield in Kilmarnock as a centre of food excellence was an example of the opportunities she was looking at.

“It is actually a manufacturing site and it will have a number of food producers going in there,” she added.

“We could bring in community planning partners and might be able to have some of sort of criteria, potentially, about what sort of outlets we want to see attracted there.

“Once they’re in, they’re in. That is the sort of thing that we need to consider having an influence over the food and drinks being manufactured on that site.

“Obviously the produce is going to go throughout Scotland and beyond, but some will end up in our local area. Upstream actions like this are likely to have a bigger impact at population level. ”

Councillor Reid agreed that efforts needed to be made, but stressed that there was a balance to be met.

He said: “It is really challenging, especially in food production. I think part of it is in education and active travel and a lot of things we do with community planning partners.

“But it is hard for us to say to local bakers – ‘say no to a Killie Pie’. It is a difficult thing to get across.

“It is about the educational aspect. It is okay to have an occasional one, but have healthy alternatives available.

“When you look at fast food outlets in some bigger communities, there is not much in terms of healthy eating there. That is where need to start and provide those alternatives.”

One of the positive statistics to come out of meeting was the, as yet unpublished, figures for childhood obesity.

Dr Campbell said she had seen that the level of children at risk from obesity had dropped from 13 per cent in 2021/22 to 9.7 per cent in 2022/23.

But the figure, she said, had risen dramatically during Covid.

Cllr Reid echoed the importance of educating young people at school campuses.

"Young people are demanding more healthy choices and more varied choices," he said.

"I think we need to respond to what they are saying. It is quite a complicated journey but we really need to get on."