Malcolm discusses broadband internet coverage across Scotland
Debate on Physical Activity Malcolm Chisholm (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab):
As many members have emphasised, there is a complex relationship between obesity, physical activity and general health. We all know that obesity is a risk factor for many diseases, including several cancers, as was emphasised at the Scotland against cancer conference a couple of weeks ago. Perhaps we can also agree that there are many factors involved in obesity, of which the lack of physical activity is just one and probably not the most important.

Since physical activity is the main focus of the debate, however, we should remember two points. First, physical activity is beneficial to a range of health factors - particularly cardiovascular health - quite apart from the obesity dimension. Secondly, physical activity will be beneficial for obese and overweight people even if they remain obese or overweight. Sir Harry Burns made that point when he spoke at lunch time today at the cross-party group on health inequalities. All of that explains why physical inactivity has been identified as the fourth leading risk factor for mortality globally.

I welcome much of what the minister announced today - for example, the initiative with the Royal College of General Practitioners, the quality interventions and the emphasis that she placed on dance-related projects for teenage girls, who often lose interest in other forms of activity during adolescence. I point out that such activities may also be beneficial to teenage boys and, indeed, older boys such as myself.

I also welcome the minister’s announcement of the national walking strategy and the emphasis that she and other members placed on walking generally. More people are travelling about in cars and sitting at desks in offices all day, so there is a particular issue about getting exercise as we go to and from work. I welcome what she said about the Paths for All Partnership and the walk to work scheme that is running this week, as workers across the country take to the paths of our cities to prove that, where there is an option to go on foot, we should make the most of the paths that are available.

A similar campaign is running for schoolchildren in response to recent figures that showed that fewer than half of Scottish schoolchildren walk to school. I welcome the emphasis that Alison Johnstone put on creating the best environments to encourage walking, and I am sure that she would support me if I made the same point about cycling. If we had safer roads for cyclists, that would help more people to travel in a healthy way. I support the target of having 10 per cent of journeys made by bike, and also the demand that several groups have made for 10 per cent of the transport budget to be spent on active travel.

The minister also mentioned the tangible benefits of exercise for older people. Increasing physical activity and exercise in older people has been identified as a key target by the World Health Organization active ageing framework to reduce the global burden of non-communicable diseases.

One of the delights of being on Twitter is that, if we follow the right people, we read all sorts of interesting postings. This week, Lesley Holdsworth, who led the older people’s work for the Kerr review, tweeted a selection of Cochrane reviews that assessed the benefits of physical activity and exercise for older people. I could speak for up to my time limit on that, but I had better not, because I want to move on.

Quite rightly, much of today’s debate has focused on young people. The minister said that the PE target will be met by 2014 and mentioned £6 million of extra funding for that, but I am sure that she is aware that, in her local authority area, the number of PE teachers has been reduced recently. I am sure that she will use whatever influence she has with the administration to reverse that, but it highlights the discrepancy between the overall rhetoric of policy and what is actually happening in many cases on the ground.

Shona Robison:
Does the member recognise that Dundee City Council is one of the best performing councils when it comes to the delivery of the PE targets? Also, we have to rely on classroom teachers to deliver PE in primary schools because, with the best will in the world, six specialists across 38 schools are not going to be able to deliver two hours of PE to all pupils.

Malcolm Chisholm:
I accept to some extent what the minister says about primary schools, but I think that we all agree that specialist teachers are required in secondary schools.

The Government also made a manifesto pledge to work towards a guarantee of five days of outdoor education for every school pupil, but information that was published in July 2009 in response to a freedom of information request revealed that only seven local authorities held information centrally on outdoor education and in none of them had all pupils been involved in it.

We need to address the cultural challenges that lead to obesity in young people and in people more generally. That was recognised by Dr Andrew Walker in his study of the economics of obesity in Scotland in 2003. I will not quote the cost that he mentioned, because it is a lot more now than it was then, but he said that, for any strategy to work, it must take into account the complexity of the condition and not simply address it as one issue in isolation. He stated:

“A radical programme is needed to tackle this serious modern health issue - a nationwide and collaborative obesity management strategy: firm targets, structured care, health promotion, disease prevention and collaboration between Government departments.”

I trust that the minister is at least ensuring that that collaboration is taking place, and hopefully most of the other objectives as well.
May 17th 2012