Physical Activity, Diet and Healthy Weight

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

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Photo of Jeane Freeman Jeane Freeman Scottish National Party

I am delighted to close the debate on two interconnected issues that are vital not only to our individual health but to having a healthy nation. I am grateful to members across the chamber for the content and tone of the debate, and I will do my best to respond to some of the questions that were raised.

I will start with Mr Briggs’s comments, just because they are in my mind and I will forget otherwise—I have not written this down. Can we collectively agree that, from now on, we will drop the idea of pigsties and pianos? To answer his substantive point, the plans are outcome focused for the very reasons that he pointed to. None of the ministers in the health portfolio has much time for strategies and plans that do not have a purpose and that we do not follow through.

It is important to recognise—as members have done—that, although the issues that we are dealing with are complex and can be difficult, that is no reason not to tackle them. In the spirit of this debate, it cannot be beyond our collective wit to come up with real plans and initiatives that we can drive forward to make a difference. In previous health debates, we have said that one of the challenges for our health service is not simply to meet the health needs that people in Scotland currently have but to tackle the generations coming behind us, so that they do not face the same problems as the rest of us.

Let me turn to what members have said. I agreed with much of what Brian Whittle said, which does not often happen. It is important to talk about children’s input into the creation of school menus and to recognise that that is growing. In relation to the school estate, it is important to recognise that sports facilities in 79 per cent of primary schools and 98 per cent of secondary schools are available to the local community. However, there are difficulties with private finance initiative schools, which can restrict that access.

Mr Whittle and other members spoke about the issue of planning applications for fast food outlets near school gates. I agree that we are sending mixed messages if we are teaching children in school about better nutrition and better diet and we are asking them to be involved in that, but then the burger van is immediately outside the school gates. Therefore, we have committed to look at that in the review of planning policy and the national planning framework, which will begin after the Parliament has taken a view on the Planning (Scotland) Bill.

Mr Whittle’s important central point was about what drives people’s behaviours and how we can change the relationship that we have in Scotland with food, physical activity, nutrition and drink. That is the central point and, to be frank, it is the hardest problem to crack. I do not think that any of us has the ultimate answer to that question.

A number of steps have already been taken, which are having some results. For example, in the national health service in Scotland, the mandatory nutrition criteria for retail outlets require that 50 per cent of food items and 70 per cent of drinks offer a healthier choice. There are also limitations on what can be promoted. The recent evaluation of that initiative has shown that healthy food purchases from those outlets have increased from 11 per cent to 47 per cent and that healthy drink purchases from them have increased from 47 per cent to 76 per cent. There are levers that we can pull to help people to make healthier choices.