In developing its new Healthy Weight Strategy, the Scottish Government is right to try and tip the scales in the direction of a healthier diet. Restricting junk food promotions, strengthening labelling and expanding the available nutritional information will make the nutritional landscape clearer have the potential to change the “food environment”, but I also want to see exercise included in the solution.
Expert after expert has outlined the problem. Almost two thirds of Scots are overweight, as are a third of children. Having an unhealthy weight has become the dangerous norm for a vast section of our population and it just can’t go on. Lots of the associated conditions are uncomfortable or painful but the more serious are life threatening. Obesity is linked to heart disease, strokes and cancer and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health has reported that up to 400 infants, children and young people die each year from conditions related to it, a great swathe of which are potentially avoidable.
It’s a complex problem that necessitates a balanced answer. We need healthy weight initiatives to permeate every aspect of life in Scotland. We need to ensure that our streets are more walkable, active travel is more attractive than driving, healthy food is within people’s price range and food education is changing.
The Faculty of Sport and Exercise Medicine has set out how inactive people spend 38% more days in hospital and visit their GP more often. It’s more clear evidence that exercise is at the core of this mission.
Feeling self-conscious or embarrassed can hold people back from getting involved, we know this. As can unaffordable services, being tied to caring commitments or not having suitable facilities nearby. Sport has a real value in solving more than just health problems, Chest, Heart and Stroke has promoted the success it has had in reducing social isolation, saying “people who are physically active are far more likely to participate in their community and build a network around themselves to self-manage their conditions”. We need to approach this issue in the round, recognise obesity as a lifestyle problem and include exercise in any conversation about how to lower the nation’s weight.
The stark reality is that too many people in our country have been overweight or obese for too long. This problems demands a set of bold and radical solutions, with exercise focused measures to match food guidelines.
Investing in sport and promoting healthy lifestyles go hand in hand.