Children’s health ‘is more important than indyref2’

Whittle, left, in his athletic prime at Meadowbank stadium during a Great Britain v USSR meet in July 1991

Whittle, left, in his athletic prime at Meadowbank stadium during a Great Britain v USSR meet in July 1991

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The former Olympic sprinter Brian Whittle wants political parties to look beyond the “pantomime” of Holyrood and unite behind his vision to improve children’s physical, mental and academic health.

The athlete turned Conservative MSP has spent the summer writing a paper which aims to instil the benefits of a healthy lifestyle from pre-school onwards and creating opportunities for all children.

He believes politicians should make it their mission is to rid Scotland of its reputation as “the sick man of Europe”. But after three months as a MSP, he is growing frustrated that politicians, including those in his own party, are distracted by talk of a second independence referendum.

Speaking to Scotland on Sunday, Whittle said: “I don’t look forward to First Minister’s Questions, because, quite frankly, it is a pantomime.”

And, according to Whittle, “probably both sides” spend too much time arguing over the constitution.

“Every time I hear indyref2 I just want to close my eyes and go ‘Oh, not again. Can we talk about real stuff?’”

As someone who won two gold medals in the 4x400 metre European championship relay and with a background in business, Whittle is already disappointed by the slow pace of change at Holyrood.

“Coming out of a sports background and a business background where you make a decision and you live and die by it, there is an interesting dynamic in here that is a bit alien to me,” Whittle said.

His paper on “What Do We Want the Health of Our Nation  to Look Like in 20 Years?” was presented to Tory high command last week.

Whittle believes all Scottish nurseries should give children training in “physical literacy” through active play programmes.

As children grow older they should all have the opportunity to take part in competitive sports, with the same principle applying to music and other cultural activities.

The diets of pre-school children have to be improved. And schools should be turned into community hubs outside classroom hours to give children in deprived areas access to sporting, technological, artistic and academic facilities.

A sports strategy should be developed so that the opportunities exist for all children to take advantage of the upsurge in sporting interest caused by Wimbledon or the Olympics.

Whittle pointed out that preventable diseases were costing the NHS billions each year.

“Every NHS and health practitioner I have spoken to says we are walking into an economic health nightmare. The prognosis is that if we continue the way we are going and don’t turn this tanker around in three decades we will lose the health service,” he said.

“We need to put a structure in place that allows for active and healthy lifestyle. Having active healthy lifestyle has a massive impact on attainment in school. There is an intrinsic link between activity and academic achievement.”

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