Walking towards a healthy weight

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With the launch of the Scotland’s Diet and Healthy Weight Delivery Plan today, obesity is quite literally big news at the moment.

Our Walking for Health Manager Frances Bain comments on the importance of physical activity in helping to tackle obesity in Scotland.

There’s no denying that it is a serious risk to the long term health and wellbeing of our country. The proportion of people who are overweight and obese (currently a staggering 65%) is increasing year on year and with this comes the increased risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and stroke for many, as well as the impact that this continues to have on health care costs.

There is broad agreement that we can’t exercise ourselves out of this situation and the plan rightly focuses mostly on the impact of food on population level obesity. For the majority of us who are overweight and obese, a reduction in the quantity and an increase in the quality of the food we eat will have the biggest impact. In the words of Michael Pollen, the solution to obesity is to ‘eat real food, not too much and mostly plants’.

But it’s important that physical activity isn’t side-lined in this fight, it’s right that the National Delivery Plan notes that physical activity is a key element in the fight against this epidemic. Aside from the undisputed physical benefits of being physically active at any weight, moving more can play an important part in losing weight and also keeping it off.

The biggest opportunity that physical activity provides though is in preventing weight gain in the first place. Moving more as part of our everyday life, alongside a healthy diet, helps to balance our energy in with our energy out and supports the maintenance of a healthy weight.

Our community and workplace walking programmes provide support and incentives for people to become and remain more active, while the projects we fund through the Smarter Choices, Smart Places programme focus on creating behaviour change around active travel choices for short journeys.

Our vision is of a Scotland where everyone can walk everyday and everywhere, a Scotland where walking is the cultural norm, where it’s easy, pleasant and the most obvious choice, could contribute a huge amount to tackling obesity.

Walking needs to be seen as a valid way to be physically active, the message needs to be that in terms of moving more, doing something is better than nothing and that anything more is then beneficial. The focus needs to be on realistic and achievable goals. For example aiming for 1,000 more steps a day or taking the stairs once a day. It’s about making small, incremental changes to everyday behaviours, which over the long term can make a sustainable and significant difference to our weight.

With the new Delivery Plan comes a shift in thinking, a move away from a focus on individual advice and education on diet and physical activity and a move toward addressing the environment that we all live and move around in. This so called obesogenic environment needs to be addressed in order to create population level change and halt the growth in obesity rates.

We need to continue to mobilise policy makers, planners and communities to create spaces and places that encourage, not prevent us from walking towards a healthy weight.

Read the delivery plan here: A Healthier Future - Scotland's Diet & Healthy Weight Delivery Plan.

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