Preventing Obesity

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 4:41 pm on 24 February 2010.

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Photo of Frank McAveety Frank McAveety Labour 4:41, 24 February 2010

I stand here with some trepidation, given that there have been four or five allusions to the consumption of pies during the debate. In an afternoon when we have heard the cabinet secretary give her mea culpa, I can say that not one morsel of that very delicious Scotch pie ever passed my lips—for those of a literary bent, that is a direct allusion to Burns. I have just fantastically enjoyed Jackson Carlaw being tough on obesity, tough on the causes of obesity. He is a man of virtue and rugged individualism. Quite clearly, he is the Gradgrind of our Parliament—hard times, indeed, Jackson.

If we look around us—not just in the Parliament, but in our constituencies and communities—we can see that what is said about obesity is true. The condition of most Scots is substantially different from that of our European counterparts in terms of our weight and how we look after ourselves through our lifestyle and eating habits. American student interns often arrive at the Parliament delighted to see people who are slimmer than those in their own country. However, when they make weekend visits to Brussels, Paris or Rome, they come back knowing the truth about Scotland. The reality is the everyday visual confirmation of the statistics that we have heard about this afternoon.

It is important that we try to deal with that reality, so the minister was right to try to identify in her speech ways in which we collectively, at local and national levels, can try to change attitudes. I understand and share the concerns about each individual being responsible for their own physical condition. However, having listened carefully to both the minister and the cabinet secretary this afternoon, I will now do the new gentle of Scottish politics and stick up for the minister over an aspect of the route map's direction to which a number of members referred. I love her too much to allow her to become the Edwina Currie of Scottish politics in terms of health recommendations, so, like a number of other members, I caution her against that aspect of the Government's new document.

Quite rightly, though, the document identifies a number of areas that we need to address much more effectively. I welcome the contributions that a number of members made to the debate in that regard. In particular, Nigel Don spoke very eloquently and convincingly on the structural approach that must be taken. I do not necessarily agree with his conclusion about the commercial sector. I think that we need to work with it to try to identify ways to address concerns about the content of food and how it is labelled and presented. Ultimately, however, the choice about whether to take the food lies with the individual.

As with everything else, we need to get things in proportion—we have used such tortuous metaphors all afternoon. The issue is also to do with physical activity. As a member of the previous Administration, I acknowledge that it is legitimate for the minister—we have crossed swords on this matter before—to refer to the fact that we, too, had a responsibility to try to achieve the target of two hours of PE a week in schools, because we set that target. However, the issue now is to try to address that concern during this session of Parliament and beyond. I look with interest to future developments on that, as I certainly think that we can be much more effective. As the minister herself said a number of years back when referring to the previous Executive's strategies,

"unless schools are resourced sufficiently to ensure that children have adequate physical education ... none of them will fit together in such a way as to improve our children's health."—[Official Report, 11 September 2003; c 1721.]

Just as that was true in 2003, it is also true in 2010.

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James McAveety
Posted on 2 Mar 2010 6:46 pm (Report this annotation)

Hi Frank, it's easier to write to you than to talk to you face to face as you won't interrupt me. Thoroughly enjoyed your contribution on obesity, a subject close to my fatty heart. The only time you brought the Polis to the door was when you tried to join them. In the modern day it will be very difficult to achieve the level of exercise in the bygone days. Dietary politics is the only way. Ban the Buns and save the the Human Race from themselves.