Expert backs 20mph Bill to help combat Scotland’s ‘obesity epidemic’

Cutting the speed limit to 20mph in all urban area could help counter Scotland’s obesity epidemic, a leading child health expert has said.

Professor Steve Turner of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health said the move – being proposed by Green MSP Mark Ruskell – would help encourage more families to get outdoors with their youngsters and take part in physical activities.

In 2017 more than a quarter (26%) of Scottish youngsters aged between two and 15 were at risk of being overweight, the Scottish Health Survey showed – with a total of 13% at risk of obesity.

Mr Ruskell has brought forward a Member’s Bill at Holyrood in a bid to introduce a 20mph speed limit in all built-up areas.

Prof Turner hailed the Bill as a “significant step in the right direction towards achieving safer roads for all”, adding the slower traffic would help make parents feel more confident about allowing children to play outside.

The expert said: “Slower traffic will encourage children to walk and change their lifestyle to one which counters the obesity epidemic.

“Parents will not have the confidence to allow their children to play outside if our country’s roads are too dangerous. Reducing the speed limit in built-up areas will help to reduce fatalities on the road and make outdoor activity a more attractive option for children and their families.

“More than a quarter of Scottish children are overweight or obese, and this is associated with childhood mental health and orthopaedic problems and putting them on course to develop potentially devastating illnesses which include type 2 diabetes, cancer, stroke and heart disease in early adulthood.

“Regular physical activity helps to keep children a healthy weight, and contributes to greater wellbeing. The Restricted Roads (20 mph Speed Limit) (Scotland) Bill marks a significant step in the right direction towards achieving safer roads for all, and thus, safer spaces for children across Scotland to spend their all-important recreational time outdoors.”

In 2018 a study by the Glasgow Centre for Population Health (GCPH) found road casualties could fall by between 531 and 755 incidents a year – saving between one and five lives – if the speed limit in built-up areas dropped from 30mph to 20mph.

Mr Ruskell said: “Making the safer speed of 20mph the standard limit in built-up areas will save lives and reduce injuries, and Professor Turner’s analysis strengthens the case even further.

“There’s no magic solution to the obesity epidemic but clearly if we have safer streets where children can cycle and play we make it easier to be active.

“Concern for children’s health is growing as they spend more time indoors and more time looking at phones and tablets, so we must seize every opportunity to make outdoor activity an attractive option.

“The aim of my Bill, recognised by the public and by experts, is to prevent deaths on our streets, reduce the seriousness of accidents and improve air quality to benefit everyone’s health. I look forward to the committee examining the details in the coming months.”