Scottish Government
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Chief Medical Officer's Annual Report

The role of a healthy childhood in improving Scotland's future health is the focus of the Chief Medical Officer's annual report.

Launching his fourth annual report at the First Steps early years project in Musselburgh, Dr Harry Burns highlights for the first time mental health and wellbeing and its relationship to physical health - and how a healthy childhood is the foundation of both.

Stressing the importance of consistent parenting, Dr Burns' report cites evidence that a healthy start equips children with the tools to live a healthier life, both physically and mentally. Dr Burns examines some of the mental health issues that can contribute to chronic stress, hampering people's ability to make healthier choices.

The report goes on to consider why Scotland appears to be less healthy than other countries with similar levels of deprivation, and asks why more Scots are not motivated to adopt healthy habits.

Dr Burns said:

"An early start is the best start. We know that getting it right for our children gives them the best possible chance of a healthy adult life - and that includes their mental health. My report is clear we may have under-estimated how much mental health and wellbeing affects our ability to make healthy choices, and a healthy childhood is the foundation of a healthy life.

"The recent Scottish Health Survey suggests 12 per cent of men and 17 per cent of women show signs of a possible psychiatric disorder. To make healthier choices you need to feel life's worth it, and mental health problems can make that very hard. This makes consistent, nurturing parenting even more important."

The report does, however, cite improving life expectancy for Scottish men and improving overall healthy life expectancy as evidence that population-wide trends can be overcome:

  • A rise in overall healthy life expectancy for both sexes from 62.6 to 68.1 between 1980 and 2008
  • Life expectancy for Scottish men has increased from 68.7 years in 1980 to 75.3 years in 2008 - an overall increase of almost 10 per cent
  • Life expectancy for Scottish women has increased from 75.1 years in 1980 to 80 years in 2008 - an overall increase of almost 7 per cent
  • Narrowing of the "life expectancy gap" between men and women

Dr Burns added:

"Men's life expectancy is catching up with women's, which shows cultural change on this level is possible. We're tackling Scotland big killers - early deaths from heart disease, stroke and cancer have all fallen - but future progress now depends on personal responsibility.

"When we compare Scotland to countries with similar economic challenges, we seem to be less healthy - a phenomenon that some have called the Scottish effect. We all know what the healthier choices are - drinking less, not smoking, exercising more and eating sensibly - and evidence shows this could add up to 13 years of extra life. So why aren't we a healthier nation?

"Of course, there is no single explanation. But we do know the importance of instilling healthy habits in childhood - mentally and physically - which is why places like the First Steps project are so important. My report is clear you need good mental health to make good physical choices, and consistent parenting is where it all starts.

"We want future generations to eat more healthily, drink more sensibly and take more exercise than their parents - and of course not to smoke. All of that depends on today's parents making an effort to support their children and give them a platform for success in their lives. Nurturing our children and developing their sense of control over their lives will give them the resources they need to look after themselves and make healthy choices in life. This is an important aspect of strategies to improve the health of Scots.

"It's not only important for our children individually that we get this right, but for the future health of Scotland as a nation."

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