Scotland's diet is our cultural killer

Written by Tom Freeman on 17 October 2017 in Comment

Time to take collective responsibility for Scotland's obesity-related deaths, writes Tom Freeman

Gun control - PA

The victims of America’s bloodiest ever lone gunman attack were offered Donald Trump’s “warmest sympathies” as the US President chose Twitter to deliver his response.

By the time he’d taken to a lectern, his speech had moved on to one of “thoughts and prayers” and it was left for the wounded – and the rest of us – to ask the why and how.

As always when innocent people are slaughtered by an American ‘gun enthusiast’, questions are asked about why that particular country has made gun ownership a right but healthcare a luxury.


What about that favourite UN human right of the anti-abortion lobby, the right to life? 

Such questions are shut down and discouraged, even by a president who previously supported a ban on automatic weapons before he pitched for the votes of a trigger-happy constituency.

According to the New York Times, the number of Americans killed on battlefields in all wars in history is 1,396,733, while the number killed by firearms in the US since 1968 is a jaw-dropping 1,516,863.
Most of those firearms deaths are people shooting themselves.

Given persistent attempts to reform gun laws in the States have got nowhere fast, we must assume that this is the number of deaths the country is comfortable with, around 35,000 a year.

Gun culture, as it is, is too embedded to shift and the conservative mantra is of personal responsibility.

And while most on this side of the pond struggle to understand why the United States seems so reluctant to take a radical approach against the things which contribute to such a high death toll, there are plenty of embedded cultural killers we seem happy to accept.

Last week’s Scottish Health Survey revealed Scotland’s well-established habits of smoking, alcohol and poor diet persist, and that has a death toll of its own.

Smoking, the one area which has seen some bold legislation, still claims over 10,000 lives a year. 

There are 22 alcohol-related deaths a week, as minimum unit pricing remains held up by a legal challenge from the drinks industry.

Meanwhile, with two-thirds of Scots overweight or obese, contributing to the burden of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and poor mental health, our diet is potentially the biggest elephant in the room.

Worryingly, last week’s stats showed the average BMI is rising, and is at its highest level since 2003. Scotland is eating itself to death, with obesity-related disease costing the NHS an estimated £4.6bn a year.

And while people will again bring up personal choice and responsibility, one statistic at least should set alarm bells ringing.

The fact is that children are consuming more foods high in sugar and fat than adults. As much as 51 per cent of Scottish children eat sweets or chocolate at least once a day, compared to 28 per cent of adults.

That means we are creating an obesogenic society for the next generation, through no fault of their own. Passing on habits that even we don’t have.

Evidence shows that obesity in childhood will have a lasting impact on a person’s life chances, whatever they decide to do as an adult.

Children will never say no to the offer of a sweetie. The choice we are faced with is one of taking responsibility or abdicating it.

Thoughts and prayers are fine. But surely we can and should do more.





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