THE SCOTTISH Government is being urged to publish its draft Good Food Nation Plan without further delay.

Rising dependency on food banks and plummeting healthy life expectancy in some parts of Scotland mean there is no time to be lost in improving people’s access to good food, according to campaigners.

In the poorest parts of Scotland, healthy life expectancy for men is now less than 45 years old – the lowest in the UK and 22 years before pension age.

Apart from the cost to the individual, this results in greater demand for health services, Pete Ritchie of the Scottish Food Coalition pointed out.

“You can’t run a country if people are spending almost half their working lives on the sick,” he said. “No-one wants to be ill and many people want to eat healthy food but can’t access it or afford it.

“Ill-health is not all down to food but good nutrition could probably fix quite a few problems.”

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Eighteen months ago, the Scottish Parliament unanimously passed the Good Food Nation Act but there is no sign of the draft action plan yet.

“It’s quite a long time to be waiting and we really need to start working on it because if you are born today in one of the poorest parts of Scotland then all you can expect in terms of a healthy life is a little more than 44 years,” said Ritchie.

“The whole point of the Good Food Nation is to try and tackle some of the deep-rooted problems we have. For example, the demand on food banks has gone up and more people are feeling food insecure than there were before.

“The Government needs to think about how we change the food culture in Scotland so that it is easy for people to eat the food they want to eat and that keeps them well.

“Life expectancy in Scotland is dropping and food is part of that. Unhealthy diets are taking people young and if they are not dying, then poor nutrition is giving them heart attacks and strokes.”

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Ritchie pointed out that the Nordic countries have spent the last 20 years trying to change their whole food system so that more people are eating more nutritious food.

“Governments can change things but it is not going to happen overnight and that is why we are keen to get this plan out,” he said.

“We produce great food but much of it goes abroad and we want to see the Government putting as much effort into supporting good food at home as good food for exports.

“Also a lot of our food is processed down south and jobs could be created here for that.”

Ritchie said that the Scottish Government had improved people’s health by taking action on tobacco and alcohol as well as introducing the Scottish Child Payment.

“If you talk to food banks, they are seeing fewer families using them because of the Scottish Child Payment even though demand generally is increasing,” Ritchie said.

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Free school meals are also a positive move but the quality of school and hospital meals still needs to be improved, the Scottish Food Coalition believes.

It also wants a new policy brought in that would see a hub in each community where hot meals would be both affordable and nutritious and available to all.

“We want to change the offers for people and give them an alternative to fast food places – somewhere they can sit down and eat a good meal and get some company if they want it, as one-third of people in Scotland now live in single-person households,” Ritchie said. “One chippy won’t kill you but if that is all you have then that’s not great.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We will publish a consultation draft of the national Good Food Nation Plan in early 2024.”