Physical Activity, Diet and Healthy Weight

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

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Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

I am never bored by any debate on the subject of food.

Realistically, for many of us, food has become a hobby rather than a way of living our lives. I am a little older than every other member in the chamber at the moment, apart from one. I see that members are looking the wrong way—he is over there on the Conservative benches. I remember the ending of sugar rationing in February 1953, when I was six years old. The ration for sweeties at that point was 11g a day. To translate that into something meaningful in today’s terms, that means that people could have in total one Mars bar every five days and nothing more—that was it. The sugar content of the 1953 ration was the equivalent of one can of Coke every three days.

We were actually a great deal healthier when our food intake was controlled by the state. I do not advocate a return to that, but that illustrates how much of our food intake is optional or voluntary and unnecessary. I and others of my generation probably have less of a sweet tooth, and I hope that that is reflected in my health. I am about a kilogram over the weight that I should be, although I am working on it. My heartbeat and respiration rate are okay. I had my blood pressure tested here in the Parliament just last week, and I am within the acceptable limits—I am below 140 and the difference between systolic and diastolic is about 60. However, that is not true of everybody in our society, and people suffer because of that.

On exercise, we do not all have to be Brian Whittle, who is a world-class athlete. I am nowhere near that, and I have never been near his historic achievements, but at least I and all of us can walk in our normal days. My watch tells me that I have walked 2.5 miles today. From looking at my diary, I expect to do about 4.5 miles tomorrow. I normally walk around 20 to 30 miles a week, just simply doing my normal business and avoiding taking taxis. That is a great help to my personal physical and mental wellbeing. Walking is a great activity to undertake if we want to think through the issues that we have.

Diabetes is one major consequence of our being overweight. To again return to the period after the war, type 2 diabetes in particular barely existed then, and type 1 was uncommon. However, we need to be cautious about that, because the diagnostic tools were pretty poor, so I suspect that there was a huge amount of undiagnosed diabetes. According to my father, basically it was diagnosed by smelling acetone on the patient’s breath. However, by the time that that could be done, people were severely diabetic and their life was at severe risk.

Sport in schools is not what it used to be. I went to a very large school and on the peak day, a Saturday, a grand total of 490 pupils would participate in competitive sport in the rugby, football, hockey and cross-country teams. That is not the case today. The restoration of sport in our schools would definitely help.

I very much welcome the debate and the focus on being healthy, taking exercise and good food.