Carol Craig is the Centre's Chief Executive. She is author of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, Creating Confidence: A Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People, The Tears that Made the Clyde: Well-being in Glasgow and The Great Takeover: How materialism, the media and markets now dominate our lives. She is Commissioning editor for the Postcards from Scotland series. Carol blogs on confidence, well-being, inequality, every day life and some of the great challenges of our time. The views she expresses are her own unless she specifically states that they reflect the Centre's thinking.
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Although I'm still on holiday in Vancouver I have been trying to keep track of news back in Scotland and so I'm aware that health is a big issue. Last week there were two big Scottish health stories. The first is the publication of research by Professor David Conway at Glasgow University which shows that only 2.5 per cent of the Scottish population have 'no risk factors' for lifestyle health risks (smoking, heavy drinking, lack of exercise, poor diet, obesity). Many of these risk factors combine - heavy drinkers often smoke, for example, and are more likely to eat badly and not take exercise thus increasing the chances of obesity. Every western society has lots of people who have these risk factors but what was worrying is that the Scottish figures were the worst for any continental European country.
The other health story came from the Centre for Public Policy for Regions (CPPR) and the auditors KPMG. They compared levels of spending on health in Scotland and England. Scotland spends about £250 more on health than England and has much higher staffing levels yet this is not translating into real health improvements. Of course, strides have been made in improving heart disease and other illnesses but England's rates are also improving.
Linking these two stories we can see why Scotland may spend much more money on health and not see real benefits - people's lifestyles are not conducive to good health and spending money on health care cannot compensate for that. Of course, the Government can spend money on education campaigns but I think you would be hard pressed to find individuals who do not know that they should be taking more exercise and eating five pieces of fruit and veg a day. The issue we need to get into is why people do not prioritise looking after their health. No doubt the answers are complex ranging from structural issues (transport, working hours etc) and cultural such as personal psychology.
Reading this coverage reminded me of something I report in my book on Glasgow - The Tears that Made the Clyde: doctors recount how if they say to some men from poor areas that if they cut down on their drinking, lose weight etc etc then they could extend their lives by ten years these men often reply 'and what would I want to do that for? Historically we have tended to see this type of response as related to work, or the lack of it. Increasingly we need to see it as part of the break down of relationships and the family which is a major aspect of modern Scottish life.