By Jenness Mitchell & Kaye Nicolson
Ten Scottish health charities have joined forces calling for action in the battle to tackle premature deaths from chronic diseases.
Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) – such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, stoke and chronic lung disease – claim the lives of nearly 40,000 Scots every year.
Campaigners believe almost a quarter of those deaths could be prevented if more was done to tackle tobacco use, alcohol consumption and unhealthy diets.
Colin Rattray, who was active and healthy before he injured his knee in his 20s, suffered life-changing complications when months in plaster and a diet of eating junk food led to type 2 diabetes.
He went on to lose part of his right leg and two toes on his left.
Speaking to STV News, he said: “I considered sugar to be literally sugar you would put in your tea, sweets. But I don’t think people think about if they’re consuming something out of a burger shop or a fish and chip shop how many hidden sugars there are.”
In association with a global campaign, ten Scottish charities published an open letter calling for urgent action.
Although Scotland has been a “pioneer in public health” with policies like the smoking ban and minimum alcohol pricing, the campaigners are calling for more to be done and believe education and prevention will ultimately save lives.
They said: “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 us that this is in part due to the higher presence of outlets in these areas selling alcohol, tobacco and unhealthy food and drink.
“We must act now to ensure that the healthy choice is an easy choice for everyone in Scotland.”
The charities – Alcohol Focus Scotland, ASH Scotland, Obesity Action Scotland, SHAAP, Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK, Stroke Association and Diabetes Scotland – said the coronavirus pandemic has provided a “wake-up call”.
They stated: “We are becoming aware of possible links between smoking, alcohol intake and obesity on the severity of Covid-19 infections, highlighting the need to take action now more than ever as we continue to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic.”
The charities are now calling on all political parties to pledge their commitment to the cause.
They added: “In this week of awareness, we are calling on all political parties to place the prevention of Scotland’s biggest killers as a priority and to give a strong commitment, ahead of next year’s Scottish Parliamentary elections, to work with us to create a step change in the health of the nation.”
In response to the open letter, the Scottish Government said it was committed to “continuous improvement” in the diagnosis, care, treatment and support of people living with non-communicable diseases in Scotland.
A spokesperson added: “In non-communicable disease awareness week we welcome this call from our leading third sector organisations, particularly as the actions these expert groups are recommending that all parties support are commitments this government has already set out in its action plan on tobacco control, delivery plan for diet and healthy weight, and alcohol harm prevention framework.
“We look forward to working with our third sector partners to deliver on their recommendations and working together across the political divide to tackle these ongoing threats to healthy life expectancy and health inequalities in Scotland.”
Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard also pledged his full support.
He said: “This timely intervention is a welcome reminder of the dangers posed to the people of Scotland by chronic diseases.
“This campaign has my full support and Scottish Labour is committed to working with all organisations concerned to end health inequalities and to bring about positive change to the lives and life chances of the people of Scotland.”
Donald Cameron MSP, health spokesperson for the Scottish Conservatives, said the coronavirus crisis had put greater emphasis on public health and on improving the way we live our lives.
He added: “It is absolutely tragic that almost 40,000 families lose a loved one in Scotland each year, and to deaths due to chronic diseases, many of which are avoidable.
“We must all redouble our efforts to change this, and the Scottish Conservatives are committed to exploring any avenue which will enable Scotland to drive forward public health improvements, and we will be looking at this closely ahead of next year’s election.”