Physical Activity, Diet and Healthy Weight

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

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Photo of Miles Briggs Miles Briggs Conservative

This has been a good and useful debate. I say to Alison Johnstone that I hope that one day we will have a Conservative-Green coalition in this Parliament, so she should not give up lodging amendments.

It is clear from all members’ speeches that improving people’s diet and increasing their physical activity are among the biggest health challenges that Scotland faces. The benefits to health of good diet and regular exercise are clear.

The health inequalities in Scotland in the current landscape are unacceptable. I think that all members who have spoken have highlighted that. We have the lowest life expectancy in the UK; in fact, we have lower life expectancy than most western European countries. That has been the case for too many years, and the health of the people of Scotland is not showing the signs of improvement that we all want. Two thirds of adults are overweight and almost a third are classed as obese. Even more worrying is that almost a third of children are at risk of being overweight or obese.

Our record on health inequalities is most pronounced in the poorest communities that we represent. We need to work especially hard to address that. As David Stewart said, being overweight and obese significantly increases a person’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, musculoskeletal conditions and cancer. Obesity is the second biggest preventable cause of cancer, after smoking, and is on track to become the biggest preventable cause.

Type 2 diabetes accounts for a significant proportion of NHS Scotland’s drug costs, but it is preventable and reversible and people can, through exercise and living a healthier lifestyle, go into remission. Its cost to NHS Scotland is estimated to be up to £600 million a year, and the cost to Scottish society is estimated to be up to £4.6 billion a year, if we take into account the wider economic impact.

I agree with my colleague Brian Whittle—who would speak on the issue for hours, if he was given the opportunity—that improving Scotland’s attitude to eating well and having more regular exercise should be at the heart of what happens in our schools and society. As many members have said, it is our responsibility to teach our young people the important lessons of eating well, and to help them to develop good lifestyle habits to keep physically active. At the weekend, I attended the Hindu community’s Diwali celebrations in Edinburgh, and one of the values in the Hindu religion of which I was not aware is that every parent is equivalent to 100 teachers. That is something that we should take into account in the context of the subject of the debate.

In this year of young people, we must ensure that our school pupils have access to meals that are of the best nutritional value, and to physical activity. A number of members have already made the point, but I make no apology for raising once more the issue of access to our school estate. Despite having consistently highlighted the matter, I continue to see how limited the opportunities are for community groups to deliver after-school physical activities and clubs in my Lothian region.

It is also important to consider how every level of government in Scotland will look to prioritise the two new delivery plans. As I have stated, the City of Edinburgh Council proposed this summer to hike prices for sports halls and local groups in the capital. I believe that the proposal is totally counterproductive to what we are trying to achieve, and I am pleased that following my intervention and that of other Lothian MSP colleagues the council has postponed the increase until January. However, in the coming weeks and months, the minister—indeed, all of us—must make sure that we have a genuine joined-up approach throughout Scotland in order that we can truly make Scotland a healthier nation.

The expansion of weight management services that are tailored to individuals’ needs will make a real difference, because such services can massively reduce people’s chances of contracting the diseases that are associated with being overweight and obese. Resources and organisations must be available to build up the infrastructure around these services, and to ensure that they are tailored to individuals.

I recently learned of a partnership between Scottish Slimmers and a local general practice on the Isle of Skye that is helping patients with assisted weight loss. I hope that we see that kind of innovative approach being taken as a result of the delivery plans, and that there is a cultural shift in Scotland, with people having access to better-quality food and exercising more.

However, for that to happen, a holistic approach will be required. Scottish Conservatives have already supported the banning of multibuys that promote food that is of low nutritional value, and which actively encourage people to overpurchase and overconsume. We also support labelling on packaging that ensures that consumers can make informed decisions.

I was encouraged to learn in the debate that a record number of schools are receiving sportscotland awards, and that a record 309,000 young people attended active schools lessons. In my Lothian region, third-sector organisations including the West Lothian Youth Foundation are doing exceptional work in our communities. The foundation uses football to promote health development and education for people across West Lothian, and has a range of initiatives that encourage participation by and accessibility for all. In fact, it has tweeted to me during the debate to ask me to advertise its offer of free football games for 11 to 15-year-olds every Friday. For those who are interested—I suppose that this continues a theme that was highlighted by Bruce Crawford, Stewart Stevenson and Alex Cole-Hamilton—the games take place at Livingston Football Club’s Tony Macaroni arena tomorrow, if they have time to go. Charities and organisations like the foundation can make a real difference in our communities, so we should provide them with all possible support to make positive change.

Everyone in the chamber will agree that Scotland’s relationship with food and exercise needs to improve, and the Scottish Conservatives are committed to working with the Government and all parties across the chamber to make that happen.

However, I point out to SNP ministers and the Government that although strategies, action plans, working groups or the two delivery plans that are being discussed are welcome, they will, as Willie Rennie said at today’s First Minister’s question time, be worth as much as

“a piano in a pigsty” if they do not deliver the change that we all want, and if they are not outcomes driven. If we can make sure that they are outcomes driven, the Government will have the support of Conservative members.