Stephen Jardine: Scots are blessed by great produce but cursed by bad diet

There will be no end to our poor health record until we take personal responsibility, says Stephen Jardine

We have to get out of our bad eating habits if we want to improve our health.

If the latest Scottish Health Survey is a report card on the nation’s health, the conclusion is undoubtedly that we must try harder.

While the number of Scots smoking and binge drinking is down, diet remains a stubborn problem restricting our country’s potential.

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Two thirds of adults are overweight including 29 per cent classed as clinically obese. When it comes to the next generation, 15 per cent of our children are obese with 28 per cent overweight. These figures have changed little in a decade.

Unlike most problems, the answer is simple. We need to eat less and exercise more. But how do we do that when habits are entrenched and we live in a society bombarded by advertising, promotion and conflicting information?

We’ve spent ten years trying to address the situation yet even the most simple messages struggle to get through. Only a fifth of adults eat the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day with 11 per cent consuming none at all. Again, that has hardly changed in a decade with the same grim implications for our economic productivity and the struggling NHS.

As the Scottish Health Survey was being published, a key player in the battle to improve our nation’s health and well being was addressing The Scotsman’s annual Food and Drink Conference.

As Chair of The Scottish Food Commission, Shirley Spear is tasked with helping turn Scotland into a Good Food Nation where a balanced diet leads to improved health outcomes.

She brings to the job decades of experience. Thirty years ago Shirley opened the Three Chimneys Restaurant as a time when the measure of good food was quantity rather than quality. Despite that she blazed a trail and showed you can eat well in even the most remote corners of Scotland.

Eighteen months after being established, the Scottish Food Commission is now focussing in on actions but we can’t sit back and expect its 16 members to revolutionise a nation blessed by great produce but cursed by bad diet.

Instead responsibility lies with every single one of us. Asked to focus her advice into one single thing everyone can achieve, Shirley Spear didn’t hesitate. “Think before you eat” was her message. How many do?

Change is achievable and being a country on the cold cusp of Europe about to embrace winter is no excuse. Fifty years ago, Finland had the highest rate of early deaths from heart disease anywhere in the world along with chronic smoking and drinking statistics.

In the 60s, Finland had the world’s highest rate of early deaths from coronary heart disease. Fed up with that situation, people petitioned the Government for action and the North Karelia project was born. The core messages were the familiar advice about lifestyle choices around smoking, drinking, exercise and diet but engagement happened in every possible way. Community groups, doctors, dentists, libraries, restaurants, nurses, ferry operators and supermarkets were all used to spread the word and engage with people. The result is a remarkable change in the health of that nation.

We too can do that but everyone needs to be involved. The Scottish Food Commission should become the trusted information resource we can all turn to. It should have a great website and active social media platforms. It is 2016 after all.It also needs to oversee public information adverts and videos which pull no punches and illustrate where bad diet, obesity and diabetes all lead to.

Then it is up to all of us to play our part. That can be employers encouraging staff to leave their desks and take a walk at lunch time. It can be parents offering fruit instead of pudding at home or local authorities cutting the number of city centre bus stops to make us walk more.

The Scottish Health Survey is going to continue to produce grim results until we realise food and diet is our own responsibility. The buck stops with all of us.