Gillian Kynoch may have a top job - but she's no fat cat.She faces the daunting task of changing the diet of a nation, and, as Barbara Millar discovers, she's a seasoned campaigner

Gillian Kynoch certainly has her work cut out. As the newly appointed 'food czar' or - to give her official title - food and health co-ordinator for Scotland, she faces the task of trying to wean a notoriously fat, salt and sugar-addicted nation off its pie and chips, its curry and its lurid-coloured fizzy drinks.

It will be no mean feat to inspire anything more than a passing acquaintance with broccoli, bananas and wholemeal bread.

But her credentials are sound.

She spent many years in England and Scotland working in health promotion and as a community dietician, witnessing 'the depressing products of our poor diet coming through the door, one after another'.

But the job will not be easy.

Although the latest Scottish health survey revealed an improvement in the nation's diet, progress is slow. The latest figures showed a 10 per cent increase in the consumption of potatoes, pasta and rice, a 6 per cent increase in fruit consumption and a 2.5 per cent reduction in the number of people who add salt to food at the table.

'I am encouraged by this move in the right direction, but it is hardly enough to get me excited, ' confesses Ms Kynoch. 'We need a lot more oomph to achieve real improvements.'

The 'oomph' will be provided by her role, backed by£1m in funding over three years. And, as the role is a co-ordinating one, she will be able to pull together all the pockets of good practice and support the organisations and individuals who are already working to improve the Scottish diet.

There is a firm foundation for much of her work. In 1996 the Scottish diet action plan was drawn up by a multi-agency task force which included food producers, processors, retailers, caterers, schools, universities, local authorities, government bodies and the NHS.

But, although its wide-ranging recommendations are described by Ms Kynoch as 'ground-breaking', the implementation of those recommendations has been far from energetic. The creation of the food and health co-ordinator post was mooted in that action plan - yet making the proposal a reality has taken almost six years.

But the plan 'is still the best thing we have got and the envy of many other countries because it is so integrated', she says, signalling her determination to put more of its recommendations into practice.

How else does she intend to break the poor dietary habits of generations of Scots? 'Well, not by more talking or wringing of hands and saying how bad our diet is, ' she insists. 'Now is the time for action.'

Recent research by the Food Standards Agency shows that consumers are totally turned off by the healthy eating message. 'They are over-familiar and bored with it in its present form, ' she says.

So Ms Kynoch is about to launch a national television campaign - with private partners - to get the message across in a different way, which could involve celebrity-led diet food programmes and even healthy-eating story lines in soaps.

She is also going to work more rigorously with schools throughout the country. There have been plenty of innovations - breakfast clubs, free fresh fruit and healthyeating vending machines, as well as lots of teaching on nutrition issues.

But school lunches are too often 'the weakest link', she says. 'I believe good food will sell itself to children. They get as bored with chips and ketchup as anyone else.'

Her own daughters, aged 11 and 13, are encouraged to adopt healthy-eating practices but, she insists, there is no food that is not allowed at home. 'I allow my children to make their own decisions about what they eat but I also involve them in shopping, menu planning and cooking, which they enjoy. The 13-year-old is a big sweet-eater, but she also eats plenty of fresh fruit. It is about getting the balance right throughout the day.'

She adds, however, that the 11-year-old has expressed the view that the only thing worse than a mother who is a dietician would be a mother who was a dentist.

Working with the various sectors in the food industry is a priority: 'We have to ensure that supply and demand for healthy foods go hand-in-hand. People need to be able to access a wide range of healthy food, whether that is in the local supermarket or works canteen.'

But she is realistic enough to know that microwaving a ready meal is as close to cooking as many people will get. Fast food will continue to provide a welcome convenience in pressurised lives.

'What people need is help with putting their diet together using the way they eat now, ' she says.

'We can achieve more success more quickly if people have a hamburger, and then an apple and an orange - rather than trying to persuade them not to have a burger at all.'