Physical Activity, Diet and Healthy Weight

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

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Photo of Emma Harper Emma Harper Scottish National Party

Like others, I welcome this afternoon’s debate. Obesity is a serious issue that needs to be addressed.

As has already been mentioned, the Scottish Government motion states:

“obesity and an unhealthy diet are linked to harms, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, musculoskeletal conditions and cancer”.

As a nurse, I am directly aware of those issues and have direct working experience of patients who live with those conditions. I spent 25 years of my career in the operating room, much of the time—in both Los Angeles and Dumfries—involved in surgery for patients with complications related to type 2 diabetes and obesity. Many of those surgeries were not pleasant for either the patient or the staff. They included some of the worst cases of embolectomy, wound debridement and amputation of limbs, as well as other operations.

Tackling those issues and promoting physical activity, healthy diet and healthy weight—all of which contribute to optimum physical health and wellbeing—requires a multistrategy approach. It is important to highlight that all the amendments that have been lodged are different, which underlines the fact that a multistrand approach is required.

The Scottish Government has outlined the delivery of ambitious actions in areas such as increasing levels of physical activity and improving diet and healthy weight, and it is important that we use a multistrand approach to achieve those aims.

I agree that improved mobility—potentially through appropriate weight loss—can lead to improved confidence in guarding against falls. I also agree with Alex Cole-Hamilton’s words regarding older people’s fears about falling—as has been highlighted, it is a major fear. I have looked after many post hip fracture patients and know that rehabilitation can sometimes take a long time.

I agree with the part of the Scottish Government’s motion that,

“acknowledges the shared responsibility across all of society to help achieve this vision, including across national and local government as well as the public, private, third and community sectors.”

I will pay a little attention to that. Many across our communities choose to engage and participate in, and support others through, social prescribing programmes. Before I joined the Health and Sport Committee, the Minister for Mental Health, Clare Haughey, briefed me in the quickest of conversations about what social prescribing was all about. Since then, I have been exploring the many ways in which social prescribing can help—whether in the form of walking football, walking netball or tai chi.

We know that it is not necessary to increase the heart rate to lose weight; simply an increase in physical activity can contribute to weight loss. The “Fixing Dad” programme, which I have mentioned in the chamber before, created by Anthony and Ian Whittington, helped their dad to lose seven stone—that is about 44kg. They helped their dad to lose so much weight by supporting him in a socially prescribed and family-engaged way so that Geoff could get on his bike. I welcome the work that Anthony and Ian have done. Perhaps the Scottish Government could review some of the merits of and evidence from the “Fixing Dad” model of social prescribing.

Today’s debate is about the contribution that physical activity, diet and healthy weight make to health and wellbeing. I highlight the recent research published by the Scottish Government that explores the link between food, environment and the planning system. The Scottish Government consultation paper, “A Healthier Future”, identifies Scotland’s obesity rates as being among the highest in the developed world. The consultation, which ran from October 2017 to January 2018, included more than 30 proposed actions to improve the Scottish diet and lifestyle and reduce public health harm.

Improving the food environment is critical to that aim. The consultation document makes it clear that a wide range of regulatory and other actions are needed to make healthier choices easier wherever we eat. The points that stood out for me include the fact that having access to outlets that sell healthy food near schools was noted to decrease the odds of someone being overweight or obese and that the closer a person lives to a fast food outlet, the more likely they are to be obese. How health relates to planning is an issue that the Health and Sport Committee took evidence on.

In addition, I love the easy suggestions for how people can increase their physical activity, which include simple steps such as getting off the bus one stop ahead of their destination. Simple suggestions can sometimes be the easiest way to achieve big gains.

I would like to highlight one of the actions that I took locally—