Physical Activity, Diet and Healthy Weight

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 15th November 2018.

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Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

The member makes an interesting point, but we also have to remember that in some parts of our more deprived communities we have what are described as food deserts, where it is simply impossible to access fresh fruit and vegetables at the affordable price that the rest of us enjoy.

It is clear that we need to begin to use regulation to tackle our obesogenic environment, and to make meaningful investment in our infrastructure. Most of the amendments reflect that focus.

The amendment in my name concentrates on the urgent need to improve spending on walking and cycling. It is helpful that spending has doubled, but £80 million is still a small proportion of our overall transport budget at just 3 to 4 per cent. Greens have a long-standing policy that active travel should get at least 10 per cent of the transport budget and we want to see spending brought up to at least £25 per head, putting us on par with the spending levels of the Netherlands, which is one of the most cycle-friendly countries in the world. I will address the minister’s remarks on finance when I make my closing speech, but in Utrecht, for example, cycling is the dominant form of transport, with 51 per cent of everyday journeys made by bike. That approach would begin to redress the lack of investment in everyday local transport for the third of people who do not have access to a car. It would also tackle two of the biggest barriers to becoming physically active: cost and time.

The increase in the active travel budget for 2018-19 is welcome and has been effective in generating more activity in local communities to deliver walking and cycling infrastructure. However, local authorities—particularly those with large urban areas—are still indicating a desire for more match funding than can be accessed currently. Increasing the active travel budget from the current level of £15 per head to £25 per head—as called for in the Green amendment—could trigger the transformational change in cycling infrastructure that could make Scotland a mass participation cycling nation, with long-distance and recreational trips safe, simple, convenient and frequent.

We need a stronger focus on cycling infrastructure, but while we work on that, we could build on popular, successful approaches, such as the cycle-to-work scheme. We could roll out cycle-to-college and cycle-to-uni schemes, which would give students better access to bike ownership through interest-free bike loans that are integrated into student funding. That would give all students an opportunity to start the semester with a bike of their choice and plan healthier, cheaper travel to lectures and classes.

Getting into healthy habits when we leave school for work, college or university can have a positive impact for decades and I would like to see more support for young people going through such important transitions. Expanding the daily mile programme is the only measure in the physical activity delivery plan that mentions colleges and universities specifically. That is a missed opportunity.

I am glad to see that the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council will be developing a new approach to diet and weight for staff and students.

I strongly support the emphasis that the Labour Party amendment places on the need to tackle holiday hunger. The Greens are strong advocates of the universal provision of free school meals beyond primary 3. Brian Whittle touched on the need for better school kitchens and dining facilities. I was pleased to welcome the Copenhagen House of Food to Parliament years ago. That is a truly inspirational model that is well worth examining.

We also have to protect children and young people from the very worst aspects of an unhealthy food industry. We have to restrict irresponsible promotions on very unhealthy food—we really must get to grips with that.

I move amendment S5M-14749.4, after second “2030” insert:

“; recognises the positive impact that walking and cycling have on health; welcomes the doubling of active travel funding in 2018-19 but notes that active travel remains a tiny proportion of Scotland’s overall transport budget; calls for further urgent increases to bring active travel expenditure up to at least £25 per capita”.