Why can’t we be more like this?

It might seem quite incongruous to go from praising scones in one post to urging Scots to take better care of their health in the next, but so be it.  At the end of October, I read a long letter in the Sunday National titled “Improvements in nation’s health not just the responsibility of the NHS”; it was written by Edward Graham-Barrie, the Director of Tai Chi Scotland and in it he argued that we should all be focussing more on “promoting good health through sensible health-enhancing practices and lifestyles.”

He did not intend to be critical of the NHS – and nor do I; he said that instead of “health” being the prime focus of the National Health Service, it’s mainly concerned with “repairing and patching up folk who have already encountered ill-health”.  He listed quite a few very sensible steps that we can all take to bring about major improvements in our own health and wellbeing, and consequently an improvement in the quality of life in our new Scotland.

Many of the practices he promotes are things we can do as individuals or as families: eating and drinking sensibly, getting the right amount of sleep, wearing sensible clothing and footwear, taking exercise.  I’m as guilty as the next person of eating rubbish and then sitting about but I’ve recently tried to cut down what I consume and walk for at least 30 minutes every day.  There are folk who’re horrified that I’m out after dark and walking through the park as well as along streets but I say that the more folk who’re out and about, the safer it is for everybody.  Why should women cower at home in the evenings for six months of the year or drive their car to the sports centre, paying for classes and polluting the air?  It costs nothing to open the door, step outside, keep walking until you feel tired and then turn for home.  You can plan your walk to avoid unnecessary risks; you can go out with your pals or join a walking group and make some pals.  Let’s stop being such fearties and get ourselves out into the natural world with its proven benefits for our mental health.

Mr Graham-Barrie is also all for having some kind of belief system or moral philosophy, a supportive network of friends / family, some love and intimacy, the courage to make changes in your life.  Who could argue with the benefits of that lot?

There are matters which he feels are the responsibility of councils and the government so that folk are free “from worry about adequate food, accommodation, clothing, transport and education”.  These should be “readily available”.  He also acknowledges that taking on the food and drink industry is going to be a major challenge but I agree that this needs to be done; I also think we need to be putting more pressure on supermarkets to stop promoting unhealthy trock.  My local Morrisons has displays of cakes and biscuits and pies and puddings mixed up with the fruit and veg in the area right in front of the entrance.

Whatever happened to that supermarket tax that was proposed a few years ago?  I know the opposition parties were against it but maybe it could be revisited in a different form as these big companies are making fortunes from having monopolised the sale of food.  People in all areas are surely entitled to have decent food available at reasonable prices in their local area.  How can more community shops be set up and supported, selling fresh local food to local people?

We still seem to think we can do what we like and the NHS will mop up but we need to start changing our behaviours.  Not only is there the financial challenge of an ageing population in Scotland to provide care for, but there are also diseases such as type 2 diabetes, self-inflicted by poor diet and lifestyle choices at an enormous and growing cost to the NHS.  Can we really afford for up to 50% of public spending to be on health?

We’ve had folk girning recently about a very modest tax increase which they can well afford.  There were also complaints about cuts in funding for health education messages but who is left who doesn’t know that smoking, or drinking too much, or eating too much sugar and fat, or never taking any exercise are the wrong choices?   News editors at BBC Scotland salivate at the prospect of stories of health targets not being met or someone who’s been waiting too long for treatment but why is the state of the NHS always the government’s fault?  We all need to be taking more responsibility for ourselves.

Recently, Dr Majid Ali has linked the rise in obesity rates in Scotland from 1984 to the introduction of microwaves and the sale of ready meals.  Fewer families in Scotland eat a meal together at the table and food is no longer part of our culture, as it still so clearly is in Mediterranean countries and in Japan which have much lower obesity rates.

The Scottish Food Commission was set up in February 2015 with the aim that by 2025, Scotland will be “a Good Food Nation, where people from every walk of life take pride and pleasure in, and benefit from, the food they produce, buy, cook, serve, and eat each day”.  One of the changes required to achieve this vision is that “everyone in Scotland has ready access to the healthy, nutritious food they need.”  Consultation on this national food and drink policy closes on 29th March 2019.  Is the BBC in Scotland publicising this; are our newspapers?

Now to a good example from Finland  which I did read about on the BBC website on 8 November – Finland: Where second-hand comes first.  They have a network of not-for-profit re-use centres called Kierratyskeskus where electrical goods get repaired and items get upcycled; people bring old clothes and can buy clothes made from old curtains.  Schoolchildren come to a “learning wardrobe” to learn about the quality of clothes and how to avoid throwaway fashion.  Scotland does have some Zero Waste shops but why can’t we have one in every town?

Finally, I was so pleased to hear about Finlay Pringle, age 11, of Ullapool who told Bear Grylls “You suck” after he learned about Grylls keeping sharks captive for folk to dive with at his Bear Grylls Adventure in Birmingham.  While I can’t condone his choice of American English, I applaud his sentiments and his gumption.  May Finlay have a very happy Christmas with many New Years of activism to follow.

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