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by Jonathan Roden, BHF Scotland
31 March 2021
Associate feature: Scotland did not come into the pandemic fighting fit

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Associate feature: Scotland did not come into the pandemic fighting fit

Over recent years we have seen increasing rates of obesity and stubbornly high rates of smoking and harmful alcohol use. In time these could have a significant impact on life expectancy in Scotland, which has consistently risen since the 1950s but has stalled since 2012. 

That’s why British Heart Foundation (BHF) Scotland came together last September with Cancer Research UK, ASH Scotland, Obesity Action Scotland, Alcohol Focus Scotland, SHAAP, Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, Stroke Association and Diabetes Scotland, to call for action and challenge our political parties to commit to measures that could help save lives and protect the future of the NHS. 

Heart disease, cancer, stroke, chronic lung disease and diabetes cause two thirds of all deaths in Scotland – around 39,000 every year – and are among the world’s biggest killers. But we know many of these deaths could be prevented. 

National Records of Scotland statistics estimate that each year around 14,000 deaths in Scotland could be prevented through public health interventions to reduce the numbers of people who are overweight or obese, who smoke, and who drink more than the recommended amount of alcohol. 

But it’s not just the loss of life that we must tackle. Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) also affect quality of life and again, health inequalities persist as people living in our least deprived communities have over 20 years more healthy life than those in our most deprived.

As the Scottish Parliament election approaches in May, it is crucial that all parties make improving the health of our nation a priority as we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic. 

There is no doubt that the pandemic has created a further negative impact on Scotland’s health.

Food Standards Scotland reported last month that the first lockdown saw steep increases in the purchased amount of alcohol and foods high in fat, sugar and salt. The 2020 Scottish Health Survey also revealed that more than a third of people who smoke reported smoking more during lockdown.

We must take this opportunity to kick start our efforts to improve Scotland’s health. The coronavirus pandemic must act as a wake-up call for how we tackle health-harming products. 

We need to empower people by making the healthy choice, the easier choice. Whether that is increasing services that support people to improve their health or taking steps around the availability, marketing, pricing and promotion of tobacco, alcohol and unhealthy food and drink - we can support people to live healthier lives. 

We want our politicians to commit to bold action, and we’ve made a series of recommendations.

For example, we want the restoration of support services for weight management, alcohol misuse and smoking cessation put at the heart of NHS recovery plans. Ensuring that retailers adhere to laws around age-restricted tobacco products and restricting promotions of drink and junk food are other important measures. 

Jonathan Roden is the Policy and Public Manager at British Heart Foundation Scotland.

This article was sponsored by British Heart Foundation Scotland.

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