Physical Activity, Diet and Healthy Weight

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

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Photo of Joe FitzPatrick Joe FitzPatrick Scottish National Party

This Government has made it clear that it wants a fairer Scotland where everyone thrives. In moving the motion, I make the point that our overall aim is to improve the health of the nation, and preventing ill health and reducing health inequalities are central to achieving that.

In June, we published a set of six interlinked public health priorities, each with prevention and early intervention at its core. They cover places and communities; the early years; mental wellbeing; alcohol, tobacco and drugs; poverty; and healthy weight and physical activity. Those priorities, which were agreed between the Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, are the most important issues to focus on, over the next decade, to improve the health of the people of Scotland.

Today I will outline the step changes that the Government is taking to meet one of those public health priorities: a Scotland where we all eat well and have a healthy weight and level of physical activity. In July, we published two complementary delivery plans that set out what needs to be done to achieve that priority. We recognise that the plans sit alongside a wide range of Government policy and action. Each delivery plan has stretching ambitions: we want to cut physical inactivity in adults and teenagers by 15 per cent by 2030, in line with the new global goal that was set out by the World Health Organization; we want to halve childhood obesity by 2030; and we want to significantly reduce diet-related health inequalities.

We have set a high bar, and rightly so. The scale of the challenge is huge and the inequalities remain persistently wide. The ambitions are underpinned by clear and comprehensive plans. I welcome support from across the chamber in addressing those twin challenges. We need to take decisive action, including restricting junk food promotions and helping more women and girls to get involved in sport and physical activities.

Let us remind ourselves why we need to act so urgently. We all know that being physically active is one of the best things that we can do for our overall physical and mental wellbeing. An active lifestyle can help to prevent heart disease, strokes, type 2 diabetes, musculoskeletal conditions and a number of cancers, but it is about more than that. Physical activity has a unique power to inspire and motivate us. It can also play a crucial role in tackling social isolation and developing confidence. In short, being active is about all of us enjoying healthy lives and being connected to our communities and our environment.

Overall levels of physical activity in Scotland remain steady, while other developing countries show decline. Given its many benefits, we want to go further and see those levels increase.

The case for change is even more stark when it comes to diet and healthy weight. We should be in no doubt about the scale of the challenge. We are consistently failing to meet our dietary goals: 65 per cent of adults are overweight or obese and over a quarter—26 per cent—of children are at risk of being overweight or obese. That is a shocking statistic, particularly given that overweight children are more likely to become overweight adults, with all the health inequality that that brings.

Obesity is the second-biggest preventable cause of cancer after smoking. It is the most significant risk factor for type 2 diabetes and it can also increase the risk of lots of conditions, including cardiovascular diseases and arthritis. If we can bring down the rates of obesity and drive up the rates of physical activity, we can prevent the burden of health harms on our children, on adults and on the national health service, and the people of Scotland will live longer, healthier and happier lives.

Both plans have three core priorities. They seek to address health inequalities by supporting everyone to have active lifestyles and healthy diets, they recognise the importance of collective leadership and broad ownership nationally and locally, across the public, private, third and community sectors, and they prioritise cross-portfolio approaches to ensure that policies across the Government—not just in the health portfolio—support the changes that are needed. Let me turn to the detail in each of the plans.

In July, I launched “A More Active Scotland: Scotland’s Physical Activity Delivery Plan”, which sets out a range of 90 actions that we and our delivery partners are taking to encourage and support people in Scotland to be more active more often. Partnership working is a central theme. Our plan follows the publication of the WHO’s “Global action plan on physical activity 2018–2030”. The WHO plan sets the challenges that countries around the world face in helping people to get and stay active. It highlights how so many aspects of modern life, including transport, technology and changes in work and leisure activities lead us towards inactivity. The WHO plan makes it clear that a whole-system approach is crucial to success. That means working across policy boundaries to improve education, transport, health, planning and sport sectors, among others.

I am extremely pleased that the WHO has welcomed our delivery plan and that it sees Scotland as being ahead of the game in responding to its global action plan.