Malcolm stresses the importance to Scotland's health of tackling obesity
Preventing Obesity Malcolm Chisholm (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab):
Obesity is, along with climate change, one of the major challenges that face us as a society. In some respects, obesity and climate change are very similar. First, obesity is the outcome of numerous societal and industrial development forces. Secondly, immediate action is essential, although obesity is exceptionally difficult to reverse. Thirdly, no single remedy will suffice. Fourthly, we require co-ordinated action involving central Government, local government, manufacturers, retailers and many other relevant stakeholders. Fifthly, major societal changes are needed, rather than just advice to individuals to change our lifestyle.

Of course I recognise "the role of individual responsibility and choice", and I am perfectly happy, in that respect, to vote for the Liberal Democrat amendment. However, it is far more important that we consider the comprehensive portfolio of interventions that is necessary to support that individual responsibility and choice. Anyone who says that one or two interventions are enough is clearly wrong. In that regard, it was regrettable to see the coverage on the front page of The Herald yesterday, when one of a panoply of measures was selected and highlighted. That was obviously a complete distortion of what is presented in this very comprehensive report.

The other problem that arises from placing too much emphasis on individual responsibility is that that can easily lead to a blame culture, and none of us wants to go down that route, particularly given that we know about the many obesogenic forces in society and about the additional, profound factors for women that are described in that landmark book, Susie Orbach's "Fat is a Feminist Issue".

I welcome the Government's strong focus on obesity, just as I welcome its strong focus on alcohol. Both were big issues six or seven years ago, but they are even bigger now as the trends in both accelerate in a most alarming way.

People often think of obesity in terms of appearance, but we must focus on health and we must inform people of the facts, which are not universally known and which people have to face up to. Many people know of a connection with cardiovascular disease and diabetes but, for example, the connection with cancer is not so widely known.

I recently attended a cancer conference organised by the Scottish Cancer Foundation at which Dr Walter Willett, an international expert from the Harvard School of Public Health, said that within the next decade obesity would be a bigger contributory factor to cancer than smoking. We must listen to the experts when it comes to the consequences of obesity and action to deal with it. We are lucky that we have experts such as Mike Lean and Annie Anderson in Scotland, but I am pleased that the Government paid such attention to the Foresight report "Tackling Obesities: Future Choices" from the Government Office for Science in Whitehall.

I welcome the focus on the workplace and the early years. That approach replicates two themes of "Improving Health in Scotland - The Challenge", which came out in 2003. One additional area that I want to emphasise a bit more is action in the community.

The Foresight report gives the example of an initiative that has been successful on the basis of the evidence: the EPODE initiative in France, which is based on a methodology that is designed to involve all relevant local stakeholders in an integrated and concrete prevention programme. I am particularly interested in that model because it is being used on a small scale by an initiative that is starting now in the Pilton health project in my constituency. I will follow that initiative with great interest. The key issue is to involve local people in deciding what the solutions are. That is a key insight and it is perhaps the one dimension that is missing from "Preventing overweight and obesity in Scotland".

Clearly, pages 17 to 20 of the report are central. That is where the issue of portion size comes in, but within a much wider context to do with labelling, marketing and the whole issue of how we reduce the intake of energy-dense foods. Richard Simpson's suggestion of listing calories is an important part of that—the report deals with labelling, which could be a basic and important part of activity and might well be a key way of dealing with portion sizes, which have attracted much attention this week.

I like the next section, particularly when it talks about creating "environments that make walking and cycling part of everyday life for everyone".

That is to do with energy expenditure rather than energy consumption. The wider perspective is important, but we all know that such environments are not necessarily being created in practice. As with other parts of the report, the principle is fine, but implementation is all.

I certainly commend the report but, as I have said, I would have liked a bit more emphasis on action at a community level. One final little quibble is that the report contains too much at the beginning about action on obesity to promote the Government's purpose of delivering sustainable economic growth. That is obviously an important element, but I found that a bit jarring. More important is promoting the health and wellbeing of the people of Scotland. That is about how long we live, how we live and reversing a trend that, without our concerted action, will cause untold damage to millions of individuals in the years to come.
February 24th 2010, (Column 23920-2)