Take action now to save Scottish lives - David McColgan
Heart disease, cancer, stroke, chronic lung disease and diabetes cause two thirds of all deaths in Scotland – around 39,000 every year – and are among the world’s biggest killers. And yet sadly deaths from these conditions are often preventable. Known as non-communicable diseases (NCDs), their burden on our society should not be underestimated.
We know that many of these deaths, and the lost healthy years of life caused by these diseases, could be avoided by addressing some of the key risk factors. Official statistics estimate that each year around 14,000 deaths in Scotland could be prevented through public health interventions to reduce the numbers of people who are overweight or obese, who smoke, and who drink more than the recommended amount of alcohol.
That’s why British Heart Foundation (BHF) Scotland is one of ten leading health charities coming together to call for action and challenge our political parties to commit to measures that could help save lives.
Working with Cancer Research UK, ASH Scotland, Obesity Action Scotland, Alcohol Focus Scotland, SHAAP, Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, Stroke Association and Diabetes Scotland, we are setting out a series of priorities to tackle three of the biggest risk factors that affect people today – tobacco use, alcohol consumption and unhealthy diets – to improve the health of everyone in Scotland.
Health problems caused by alcohol misuse, tobacco use and obesity have been estimated to cost our NHS £267 million, £780 million and £600 million respectively.
Evidence shows the environment around us heavily influences whether we smoke, the amount of alcohol we drink and what we eat. The visibility of products on our high streets and the way they are marketed all contribute to Scotland having one of the lowest healthy life expectancies in Western Europe.
This is particularly true in our most deprived communities where levels of smoking, harmful alcohol use and overweight and obesity are often at their highest. Research shows that this is partly due to the higher presence of outlets in these areas selling alcohol, tobacco and unhealthy food and drink.
But it’s not just the loss of life that we must tackle. NCDs also affect quality of life and again, health inequalities persist as people living in our least deprived communities have over 20 years more healthy life than those in our most deprived.
The coronavirus pandemic has provided a wake-up call on these issues. We are becoming aware of possible links between underlying heart conditions and risk factors such as smoking, excessive alcohol intake and obesity on the severity of Covid-19 infections, highlighting the need to act now more than ever as we continue to tackle the virus.
We want our politicians to commit to bold action, and we’ve made a series of recommendations. For example, we want the restoration of support services for weight management, alcohol misuse and smoking cessation put at the heart of NHS recovery plans. Ensuring that retailers adhere to laws around age-restricted tobacco products, and restricting promotions of drink and junk food are other important measures.
There’s more information on our recommendations here.
Scotland has been a pioneer in public health. It was the first country in the UK to ban smoking in enclosed public spaces and the first in the world to introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol.
Ahead of May’s Scottish Parliamentary election, we are calling on all political parties to make the prevention of Scotland’s biggest killers a priority and commit to working with us to create a step change in the health of the nation. We must act now to ensure that the healthy choice is an easy choice for everyone in Scotland.
David McColgan, Senior Policy and Public Affairs Manager, British Heart Foundation Scotland
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