DOCTORS have called for free fruit and vegetables to be made available to all children in primary schools in an effort to improve the future health of the nation.
Under initiatives already in place in Scotland, youngsters in P1 and P2 are given fruit and vegetables three days a week in schools.
But the British Medical Association conference in Edinburgh heard the handout should be extended to cover all primary-age children every day they are at school.
Doctors also backed calls for the price of fruit and veg to be reduced to make them more affordable and encourage more people to follow a healthier diet.
Chris Williams, a locum GP in Inverness, said teaching children about a healthy diet had to start early in life. “It is vital our children understand the relationship between food, health and wellbeing,” he said. “Providing a proper start is perhaps our best chance for people in our society to live longer, healthier lives.
“But it will take parents, teachers, doctors and government to all work together if we want to achieve such great things.”
Dr Williams said schools had a central role to play in helping young people develop their understanding of the many aspects of food – not just consuming it, but also “choosing it, cooking it and growing it”.
The delegates, gathered for the last day of the BMA’s annual meeting, voted in favour of free fruit and vegetable initiatives to be extended for all primary
children and for five days a week. They also backed calls for the BMA to campaign to lower the price of both fruit and vegetables to encourage more people to buy them.
A BMA Scotland spokeswoman said: “Rising levels of overweight and obese children are of great concern for the future health of our nation.
“By providing free fruit and vegetables to schoolchildren, we can ensure that those children who do not eat healthily at home are being exposed to healthy eating at school and are learning to enjoy more nutritious options. By giving children the tools to make the right choices, we can help prevent them becoming ill later in life.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “In Scotland, many primary schools already provide free fruit and vegetables to pupils, and it is up to each local authority whether they decide to provide free fruit and vegetables.”
Doctors yesterday also backed calls for a ban on junk food in hospitals, as reported in The Scotsman yesterday.
And cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra said: “It is appalling to observe on ward rounds patients, some of whom are not fully mobile, gorging on crisps, confectionery and sugary drinks – the very food items that may have contributed to their condition in the first place.
“That these consumables are sold to patients through portable hospital trolleys actually reflects a marketing strategy by junk food companies to make their products available and
accessible to anyone, anywhere and at any time.”
Dr Malhotra, who works in London, said it was “obscene” many hospitals had fast food venues on site, and corridors lined with vending machines. He said it was time to “stop selling sickness in NHS premises”.
But Shane Brennan, from the Association of Convenience Stores, questioned the effectiveness of a junk food ban in hospitals and said more education about healthy eating was needed. He said: “For a start, how do you define what is junk food? It is not about eating one
particular product. It is a pattern of bad eating that is the issue.”
Doctors also said rules prohibiting smoking near the entrances to hospitals were “routinely ignored” and called for health bosses to impose tougher penalties for staff or patients who break such rules. In Scotland, the Scottish Government has announced plans to ban smoking anywhere on NHS sites.
The conference also heard calls for the rest of the UK to follow Scotland’s proposals and introduce a minimum price for a unit of alcohol.
But doctors rejected calls for proof children have been vaccinated to be made mandatory before they start school, saying parents should be educated and encouraged, not coerced into immunisation. This follows rising rates of measles in parts of the UK which were blamed on poor uptake of the MMR jab.
Scottish patients at risk of stroke ‘can wait weeks’
Patients in Scotland needing surgery to try to prevent a stroke can wait weeks for treatment, a report says.
Figures published by the Vascular Society reveal that in some areas patients wait an average of 30 days to undergo a procedure to remove blockages in their arteries after stroke-like symptoms.
The society yesterday also published individual mortality rates for vascular surgeons across the UK covering two common procedures.
The National Vascular Registry 2013 Report on Surgical Outcomes includes patients who had surgery for an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA) – a swelling in the artery taking blood from the heart to the lower body – and stroke prevention surgery known as carotid endarterectomy.
The UK average mortality rate for AAA surgery stood at 2.2 per cent. While mortality rates for surgeons in Scotland ranged from 0 to 8.3 per, within the expected range.
Carotid endarterectomy is offered to patients who have suffered stroke-like symptoms, removing blockages in the arteries in an attempt to prevent a full stroke occurring.
On average 2.4 per cent of UK patients would suffer a stroke and/or die after the surgery, with rates ranging from 0/12.5 per cent for surgeons in Scotland. Again, none was outside expected levels.
But the figures also revealed the average delay between a patient suffering symptoms and having the surgery, which in Scotland ranged from an average of 11 days in Grampian to 30 days in Highland.
Some of this delay may be due to patients waiting to see a doctor, but most will occur after they have been referred for treatment.
Vascular Society president Professor Julian Scott said: “Surgeons in these tables should not be ranked
by their mortality
rate as there is a risk that they will be wrongly criticised and patients misled.
“Some are conducting extremely difficult surgery on very sick people so will have relatively high mortality rates.”
Delegates fear austerity is harming health of poor
Reductions in the welfare benefits received by some people will damage the health of those already living in disadvantaged circumstances, doctors
Delegates at the British Medical Association conference in Edinburgh expressed growing concerns about the changes to the benefits system, noting that health inequalities between the richest and poorest are an increasing problem.
Dr JS Bamrah said research showed that many people were dying prematurely due to health inequalities, and the lower a person’s social status was, the worse their health became.
“Although there are inequities in care across the NHS, they do not account for the huge health inequality,” he said.
“The more significant effect arises from social and economic factors on health. The greater the levels of deprivation it seems, the lower the average life expectancy.”
Professor Averil Mansfield, chair of the BMA’s board of science, said they had concerns that cuts in child benefit and other austerity measures were detrimental to people’s health.
Dr Alan McDevitt, chairman of the BMA’s Scottish GPs committee, said: “The BMA is very concerned about the impact that UK welfare reform legislation is having on the people of Scotland.
“A reduction in income is likely to lead to poorer quality of health for individuals and increased health inequalities for our nation as a whole.”
Dr McDevitt said GPs in many areas were being “overwhelmed” by the number of patients seeking additional information to support their appeals in challenging decisions on incapacity benefits. “This is impacting on practice time which would otherwise have been spent on health concerns,” he said.