Miles Briggs: Scotland’s obesity crisis has huge implications

Obesity takes three years off the average persons life
Obesity takes three years off the average persons life
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Today, the Scottish Parliament will hear from a range of experts about the implications of rising obesity levels across Scotland.

Set out before MSPs on the Holyrood health committee will be a number of utterly alarming statistics.

Tory MSP Miles Briggs. Picture: Greg Macvean

Tory MSP Miles Briggs. Picture: Greg Macvean

Cancer Research UK will highlight figures showing people’s expanding waistlines cost the NHS north of the Border up to £600 million every year.

And the cost to the wider economy is even greater, thought to be around £4.6 billion.

Not only is obesity a source of workplace discrimination, NHS Health Scotland will add, but it results in lower wages, an early exit from the workforce through sickness, and lower educational attainment, all of which contribute to lower living standards.

It’s bad news for the NHS, and even worse for those affected.

Obesity takes three years off the average person’s life, which rises to nearly a decade in the case of severe obesity, not to mention the increased risk it brings of cancer, diabetes and a range of other ailments.

The Scottish Directors of Public Health Network even go as far to say obesity risks the very strategy upon which the future of our NHS depends; to reduce illnesses which are preventable.

Lead consultant Phil Mackie will say: “Obesity is also a potential future threat to the vision set out in the chief medical officer’s Realistic Medicine initiative and is likely to be a key challenge to the successful, sustainable implementation of the National Clinical Strategy as many of the diseases that the future NHS in Scotland will face will be obesity-related and will have been preventable.”

It’s extremely grim stuff and, as will be made clear today, there is no one easy answer.

Obesity is approaching the levels of smoking and alcohol consumption when it comes to a public health crisis, with two-thirds of adults overweight at best. As the British Dietetic Association will state tomorrow: “People of normal weight are now in the minority.”

What the public want from politicians is a solution to this issue.

It’s one of those tricky areas where personal responsibility meets the need for proper government strategy.

It would be entirely unreasonable to blame the NHS for someone having a poor diet, and no motivation to lead an active lifestyle.

But there’s certainly more the Scottish Government can do. We especially agree with the point made by Cancer Research UK that GPs need more training and resources to deal with increasing weight at the earliest opportunity.

A case will also be made for state intervention on alcohol, junk food and sugary drinks.

The obesity crisis in Scotland is such that these arguments are worthy of consideration.

But we would be naïve in thinking making a burger and chips a bit more expensive for those who enjoy them will have any meaningful impact.

It also takes responsibility away from people, and that’s not what we pay government to do.

Once we reach the other side of this process, Scotland’s obesity strategy has to be one that provides enough assistance for those who want to make changes, without telling people what they are and aren’t allowed to consume.

Miles Briggs is a Lothians MSP and Scottish Conservative public health spokesman