27 February 2018

S5M-10652 Healthy Weight Strategy

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-10652, in the name of Aileen Campbell, on developing a Scottish healthy weight strategy. I call on the minister to speak to and move the motion.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

David Stewart made a sideways reference to what we should call my seniority in this debate. Indeed, looking round, I see that I am the only member—apart from someone in front of me, perhaps—who might remember rationing. Indeed, I was six years old—[Laughter.]

The Deputy Presiding Officer: The ground is gradually opening up under your feet, Mr Stevenson.

Stewart Stevenson: When I wrote this speech, someone else was in the Presiding Officer’s chair, of course.

Anyway, the bottom line is that I was six when sugar rationing ended, so as a youngster my palate was not used to having sweet things. There is an important point in the rather amusing comment that I made, which is that how we eat in the very early days of our lives will influence our preferences throughout our lives. I have survived to the point where my blood pressure is 120 over 60, my heart rate is 72 and my respiration is running at about 20. More critically, I have been sworn in to the Parliament on five occasions and on each occasion I have worn the same suit. However, now for the bad news: I am 30 per cent heavier than I was when I got married nearly 50 years ago. So, it is not all good news; it is merely not as bad as it might be.

I am afraid that I must say that most of that weight gain is probably fat rather than muscle. Brian Whittle—the most accomplished athlete in our number this afternoon—would no doubt agree that of course muscle weighs more than fat so perhaps there is a modest advantage.

I want to talk a little bit about the psychology of being overweight. We heard about tomorrow’s debate on eating disorders; of course, such disorders can cause people to be underweight or overweight. Being in possession of an eating disorder is linked to stress and low self-esteem; it might even be linked to some degree of mental ill health. Some of the language that is used does not help. We have used the expression “junk food” quite frequently in this debate and I think that when we suggest to people that they are eating junk food, we demean them and we disincentivise them; we make them feel bad about themselves, because the word “junk” is not a nice word. I do not think that it is the kind of word that we should use too much.

We have heard a little bit about labelling—from Ash Denham, for example. We need vigorous rules on labelling. It is sometimes really quite difficult to work things out. I pick things up and I look at how many calories they have. Then I notice that in tiny, tiny print, it says that the number of calories is what is in half the contents of the packet. In some cases, it is even a fifth of the packet. I want to see, in 20-point print on the front of everything that is prepackaged, how many calories are in the packet. Then I can start to do some meaningful estimation.

Members have talked about the outdoors and exercise. It is worth saying that we can extend the eating habits of the young by encouraging them to just walk around. There is hedgerow food—we normally pick enough brambles to last for most of the year. They go in the freezer. There has been a huge crop of wild raspberries in our area, and there are mushrooms out there. If I want something sweet when I am in the country, I pick up a clover flower and just stick it in my mouth and suck it; it is lovely. There is seaweed not far away, there is tree resin, and there are nettles, which are an excellent thing to add to mince, stews and so on. Of course, when they are cooked, they have no adverse effect whatsoever on one’s palate.

We have talked a bit about salt, which is, of course, sodium chloride. It is possible to buy formulations of salt that have potassium chloride, which is much less harmful to the metabolism, but gives exactly the same flavour benefits.

We have heard a little bit about alcohol. I must confess to members here and now that I reckon that the amount of calories in my alcohol consumption is probably equivalent to a meal a week, and for a lot of members it might be something similar. People should think of their alcohol consumption in those terms when they are thinking of its benefits.

In my lifetime—and I think that this goes to the heart of it—there has been a shift. At the beginning of my life, people were eating to live; now, alas, too many of us are living to eat.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: That was entertaining as usual, Mr Stevenson, as well as informative. I call Anas Sarwar to close for Labour.


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