Sunday, 25 February 2018

Physical activity and health and well-being: last week my feet walked upon Scotland’s mountains green

Regular readers of my blog and Twitter followers will know I have a thing about chickens. I am confident that I have the greatest collection of chickens (in any media you can think of) in the world. So maybe it will come as no surprise that I was secretly pleased to see the difficulties KFC were having last week. They ran out of chickens to sell in their food outlets. Why, in any case, I asked myself, would anyone want to eat such a beautiful bird in the first place.

I have never been to a KFC and indeed have only ever eaten at that other ubiquitous fast food chain, McDonalds, 3 times in my life. One occasion was with my youngest daughter at her first Christmas lights turn on in Bolton. I ate chips and mayo, and the same choice also served as a life preserving diet on the other 2 occasions. One was in Pécs, Hungary, an ancient city close to the Croatian border, but where at the time, was a place that really didn’t understand vegetarianism. The other occasion was in Sao Paulo, Brazil, when all the banks went on strike. I was left with just a few US$ with which to survive the 5 days I was there. US$ were readily accepted at the time, and I always had some emergency US$ in my wallet.   

KFC’s troubles aside, the brutal fact is that across the world, 50 billion chickens a year are killed for human consumption. In the UK 2.5 million chickens a day are eaten, yes that’s right, every single day. Indeed, every year, 10 million pigs, 15 million sheep, 16 million turkeys, 14 million ducks and geese, 2.6 million cattle, 4.5 billion fish get eaten in the UK every year. Much of this consumption is by processed foods. What you think of as a chicken fillet may, conceivably, be only tangentially related to an actual chicken. A great deal of this food ends up as processed food, convenience meals and so on.

Given that the average person in the UK eats 50% more calories each day than they need, it’s perhaps understandable that 60% of UK adults are overweight or obese. Indeed, 30% of children are obese by the time they leave primary school. In fact international research shows that Britain is the fattest country in Western Europe, with a rising rate of obesity that is even faster than the rate in the US. In the 1970’s (some readers will remember this time) less than 3% of adults in the UK were obese. Over time, it’s clear that we have transposed the occasional treat like having a Friday night takeaway or visiting a restaurant into something that is a much more regular event. Families in the UK eat out twice as much as they did during the 1970s, with a staggeringly 1 in 5 meals eaten outside the home. It’s not just the rising amount of high-calorie foods consumed that has caused the problem. Many people are just far less active than they once were.

For a long time now I believed in taking a #WalkEveryDay – I got a Fitbit in the Christmas of 2016 and take great delight in walking 10000 steps every day. This year my average is now around 17,000 steps a day, which is 12km or about 7.5 miles. For me this is important as I signed up to what has become to be known as the #NHS1000miles challenge. In celebrating the 70th year of the NHS, thousands of people are recording their walking, running, swimming, horse riding, gym treadmill jogging, in fact any physical activity that can be recorded as miles as a collective birthday present to the NHS. The more active we are, the healthier we become – which has to be great news for the NHS. Prevention is always going to be better than cure! 

So last Friday it was wonderful to be given a guided tour (thank you Alan and Richard) of what I hope will become our new village Nature Reserve. Using Scotland’s ‘Community Right to Buy Scheme’, the village was able to purchase 45 acres of land which forms one of the borders of the village. The land is part pasture and part deciduous woodland.  I was able to walk around the entire 45 acres and the views were spectacular. We saw 6 deer grazing the land, and much evidence of badger and fox activity. It was a wonderful way to spend a morning and I could see how this land might become a valuable community asset in promoting health and wellbeing for our community and those folk that choose to visit our part of Scotland. 

Thankfully we don’t have either a KFC or McDonalds within the village or even with 20 miles of the village. Across Dumfries and Galloway we do have some great vegetarian restaurants however, see here. Not so in Iceland. It was one of the places where I could have done with a McDonalds portion of chips and mayo. But alongside Algeria, Albania, Ghana, and North Korea, Iceland doesn't have a McDonalds. At the time, I was attending a mental health nursing conference in Reykjavik. Strangely folk there took great pride in serving pickled shark, whale, puffin and sheep testicles in many of the restaurants. Vegetarian meals were absolutely hard to come by. So maybe unsurprisingly, perhaps, 67% of the Icelandic adult population are overweight or obese. The message of this blog is eat mainly vegetables, take plenty of exercise, and think twice about visiting Bolton, Pécs, Sao Paulo or Reykjavik for your next holiday.