New agency is an opportunity to shape public health in Scotland for a generation, writes our Senior Policy Officer Ian McCall

The Scottish Government and COSLA want to hear views on plans for the new Public Health Scotland agency.

Walking is popular, accessible and effective

A consultation is underway to help plan the development of our new health body: Public Health Scotland. Our Senior Development Officer Ian McCall writes about the key role he feels this body should play to help create a happier, healthier Scotland.

The introduction of a new national public health body presents an opportunity to positively influence Scotland’s health for many years to come.

I believe the focus of Public Health Scotland should be on action on the social determinants of health, rather than the consequences of ill-health. A body focusing on preventative measures should be a breath of fresh air in our approach to people’s long-term wellbeing.

A coordinated, whole system approach is needed if we are to achieve this preventative approach to health, as advocated by the Christie Commission in 2011.

Working in the sector, and specifically in advocating positive behaviour change, for a number of years now, I believe the third sector will be a vital factor in putting prevention at the heart of health and care in Scotland. I very much welcome the intention that the agency will ensure third sector organisations are fully involved.

Voluntary organisations give an important voice to local communities and make links between communities and public sector bodies. I see a strong role in community planning as key to the agency achieving the kind of change that is needed. It would seem logical that the organisation should have a statutory role in relation to Community Planning Partnerships, allowing for programmes and initiative to be tailoring to suit the needs of their community.

One of the most effective ways to improve the health of our population is to increase physical activity levels.

This is recognised as a public health priority and it is important that the new body can promote this.

Regular walking has proven to be the most popular, accessible and effective way of doing this, due to it being simple, low-cost and enjoyable to fit into everyday life.

This is why I believe Public Health Scotland should work to support the delivery of the National Walking Strategy. The strategy aims to create opportunities for everyone living in and visiting Scotland to walk, and receiving many benefits in doing so.

The public health benefits of increasing physical activity levels, and in particular walking, and great. From individual mental, physical and social benefits to reduced levels of pollution and congestion, embedding everyday walking into public health plans will help to deliver against health, climate change and environment,  transport and planning policy agendas.

Walking is important in tackling inequalities faced in many communities in Scotland. Participation in sport varies by age, gender, area deprivation and household income, but when we include walking for recreation, these participation gaps narrow.

Participation in all physical activity and sport remained relatively constant between 2007 and 2010 (around 72%). Since then people have become more active (rising to 75% in 2011 and again to 81% in 2017). The rise in physical activity is driven by the rise in recreational walking. 67% of adults walked for at least 30 minutes for recreation in the last four weeks, an increase from 57% five years earlier (SHS 2017). 

I would encourage anyone with an interest in public health in Scotland to take part in the consultation. Together, we can make a positive impact on the health of Scotland and have a lasting impact for many years to come.

The deadline to respond to the consultation is Monday, 8th July.