Keeping kids off the couch and living long, healthy lives

Research showing Scots children are among the least active in the world should serve as a wake-up call.

As we welcome the world for the Commonwealth Games we read that our children are stuck on the couch, staring at screens. Overweight children suffer from asthma and diabetes, stigma and bullying. Obesity in Scotland is on course to cost £3billion in the next fifteen years, so we need a dramatic move towards preventative spending.

At the moment it’s easier for ministers to spend a few thousand pounds on marketing campaigns than invest the millions we need to make active lifestyles the norm.

I do see some signs of hope locally. Edinburgh is piloting more 20mph zones, and I commend the efforts by Scottish Canals and others to encourage use of the great asset that is the Union Canal and its paths.

120725 AJ with bike family

But I also see continued threats. I got into politics after campaigning to save playing fields at Meggetland from being sold off for luxury flats. Edinburgh’s green spaces remain under pressure when we should be looking to brownfield land to meet the demand for housing. We’ve seen the closure of Leith Waterworld, Midlothian Council is preparing to bulldoze Bonnyrigg leisure centre and Meadowbank stadium continues to go unloved.

Supermarkets need tackled too, as they encourage car journeys and reward motorists with money off petrol; which canny retailer will be first to offer an incentive for customers cycling to the shops?

As for screen time, it’s easy to see this as a cheap option compared to more active alternatives which can stretch family budgets to breaking point. Governments local and national need to recognise that making access to swimming and other activities affordable would in time deliver savings to the health budget.

As summer holidays approach I know families who can afford to will be signing up for sporting activities – activities I’d like to see available all year round at minimal cost. Young children love being active. By encouraging good habits at an early age we can keep them off the couch and living long, healthy lives.