Obesity and physical activity in Wales
Plenary Wednesday 7th December 201615:58:53
Regarding active travel, I think we do have a problem in that we’ve also got now the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, but there doesn’t seem to be anything linking the two pieces of legislation together.
Spoken Contribution – 15:58:53
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Thanks to the five Members listed for bringing the debate today. There’s a range of issues under deliberation here, too many to cover in one contribution, so I’ll concentrate on the issues of obesity and physical activity, active travel being part of that.
Levels of participation in active travel have not shown improvement, unfortunately, since the active travel Act was passed, and the independent charity Living Streets says that we are still dealing with a decline in the walk-to-school numbers as more and more parents drive instead of walking sometimes fairly short distances. We do need to do more to promote walking to school. I note that there has been a programme; can we offer some kind of financial inducement to schools for participating in organised walking groups? Also, there’s issue that Vikki raised first of all in her short debate that she did a few weeks back of outdoor activities. That’s another thing that schools can actively promote, which would, I’m sure, have a beneficial effect, but can the Government have any effect on this kind of thing being promoted in schools, particularly primary schools, because we need to start them off early? Can we give more support to local authorities over the funding of leisure centres, given that we now face the spectre of outsourcing, which could lead to an increase in admission fees? I appreciate that these are really local authority matters, but we could perhaps do something as a Government—well, I’m not in the Government—as an Assembly, sorry, to monitor this, at least, and perhaps to give some kind of support to local authorities in their subsidising of leisure centres, given that ultimately we could pay rather more in costs for the Welsh health service if we don’t do this now.
Regarding older people, there is the issue of bowling clubs, which is quite often their only leisure activity. We had a recent case where a popular bowling club in east Cardiff was condemned to closure. Again, it’s an issue where it’s a local authority decision whether or not to subsidise these clubs but we could take some more active role, in the Assembly, in promoting these kinds of activities for older people—similarly, things like Nordic walking clubs, which we’ve had.
Regarding active travel, I think we do have a problem in that we’ve also got now the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, but there doesn’t seem to be anything linking the two pieces of legislation together. For example, there’s no active travel indicator in the Well-being of Future Generations Act that can hold public services boards or councils to account for their provision of active travel. This also affects the south Wales metro system because concerns have been raised, in the active travel board, about the requirements for active travel and whether they’re going to be provided for when we get the metro. Transport for Wales are setting the scoring for procurement and this could and should include standards to increase active travel to and from stations. I appreciate that we need to deliver the south Wales metro—that is the priority—but is the Welsh Government doing anything to ensure that when we do get the metro it does in fact include some good provision for active travel? Thanks.
Julie Morgan – 16:02
I’d like to thank the Members who have brought this debate forward because, obviously, this is a critical issue. Previous speakers have described the situation in Wales, which is obviously a matter of huge concern. It’s clear that eating habits and exercise habits need to be improved—we’ve heard the statistics about that today.
I’m very proud that we do have the Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013 and that it has been passed—a unique Act by this Welsh Government—and I think we absolutely have to make every opportunity to use it to its maximum potential. For example, I know that we are consulting on the local walking and cycling routes that communities themselves feel need to be prioritised. We’ve had a good response in Cardiff, I think we’ve about 200 people giving their input so far, but I think we’ve got to do more. We’ve got to make sure that more people in Cardiff and throughout Wales put out the message that we can develop safe walking and cycling routes, which I think is very important to encourage people to get fit and to leave their cars at home, and we’ve got that legislation there now at the moment. I think we’ve got good examples throughout Wales and we’ve got great organisations like Living Streets and Sustrans, who are working hard on these issues. I know that Sustrans is also considering targeting, in particular, young mums and mums-to-be—and I think Dai Lloyd mentioned this in his contribution—because the evidence does suggest that the biggest impact on whether people adopt walking and cycling habits is whether their parents travelled actively, so the example was there.
We obviously can’t win the battle against obesity simply by promoting active travel, although I think there are great opportunities there. Changing eating habits is very hard, but I do believe it starts right at the beginning and I was pleased that Dai Lloyd mentioned breastfeeding—I expressed my concern that that was not in the chief medical officer of health’s report last week. But I know that the Welsh Government is concerned about promoting breastfeeding, but I just think that is something we’ve got to have another great push on. It is very important, as Vikki Howells mentioned—the importance of antenatal support and working with mothers. But it is very difficult to change eating habits, particularly with adults. However many public health campaigns we run, food still equals comfort for many people and also, I think one of the most important points is that poverty impacts on eating habits, and I think that’s something that I want to say a bit about now.
The Child Poverty Action Group has just published a book called ‘Improving Children’s Life Chances’, which shows that, for both girls and boys aged two to 15, there’s a greater prevalence of overweight and obesity in the 40 per cent of children from lower income groups. And we know that. We know, through the work on health inequalities, that it is the poorer families who are more likely to be overweight.
Research shows that foods that are nutrient-dense per calorie are more expensive. Data from the national diet and nutrition survey 2008-12 show that the lowest income group generally consumes less protein, less iron, fewer fruits and vegetables, less vitamin C, less calcium and less oily fish. And one of the reasons for that is that lean meat, fresh fruit, vegetables and fish are difficult and are expensive forms of calories. I think we all know that that food is more expensive. So, it makes sense that, when incomes are higher, you can afford better-quality food, which is why the effects of austerity and benefit cuts are so pernicious—because they do affect what people are able to eat.
So, I think it’s very important that we do look at this in the overall context of people’s lives and I do believe that poverty has a big impact on what we are able to do. Some of those levers of poverty are not within our power in this Assembly, but I do believe that we have levers here that we can use and should use. People have mentioned a lot of those levers today, but I think it starts with the first food that you have—or we hope you’ll have—which is breast milk. It’s crucially important what happens in school in terms of healthy eating and there have been lots of suggestions here today, and the exercise issue that we know we can promote through the active travel Act. I do believe we have many levers here in this Assembly to tackle this very important issue.