Last week the Scottish Government announced that it was producing a leaflet “aimed at increasing awareness of the recommended vitamin D levels”. It is being sent to all GPs and health professionals, because no doubt this is information that will be very new to them…
Clearly, some people are more at risk of Vitamin D deficiency than others. Apparently – depressingly – there is an increase in reported cases of rickets in Scotland. But it is safe to say that Scotland is not exactly a sunshine state and therefore, the general population is also at risk of this deficiency. It is increasingly being linked to a host of diseases and conditions, like multiple sclerosis.
“Shine on Scotland” is a great campaign and deserves to succeed. But its rather obvious objectives are symptomatic of our nation’s continuing belief that only the state can fix things. So providing Vitamin D supplements to all children and pregnant women is the number one aim, and of course it would work. But it would cost money. And such an intervention would not address the need for the whole population to improve its vitamin D levels.
Applying a state sticking plaster to every problem was very much the way of the Labour led Scottish Executive of old. So it is disappointing to see the SNP continue this obsession with statism, though the fact that the leaflet initiative emanates from that bastion of top down public sector-ism, the NHS, makes it perhaps less surprising. Of course, a leaflet is not going to do a single thing to actually improve vitamin D levels in the populace nor address the rising numbers of children and others with rickets.
The solution to all of us getting more vitamin D in our systems is more sunshine on our skin in the key months of April to September. And in the winter to eat more foods such as oily fish, eggs and meat that contain naturally high doses of vitamin D.
So here is the burdz alternative plan to combating vitamin D deficiency:
- schools should not be allowed to close classroom curtains and blinds on natural daylight between April and September
- during these months, playtimes and lunchtimes should be extended by 10 minutes a day
- school dinners should serve salmon, sardines, cod, shrimps, liver, eggs and cold milk to drink once a week, every week in the winter months
- the NHS should serve salmon, sardines, cod, shrimps, liver, eggs and cold milk to drink on their menus all year round
- there should be a national care standard upon which care providers are inspected, relating to time spent outside between April and September and on the nutritional content of meals provided
- contracts for meals and wheels should stipulate the provision of vitamin D rich foods (and other essential vitamins and minerals)
- other public procurement contracts relating to food provision should contain similar stipulations
- fish shops and butchers should be offered special business rate reductions and other incentives to start up and to stay in business
- supermarkets should be provided with an incentive rates/tax package relating to their loss leader policies, that rewards those who loss lead on vitamin D rich foods (and others that are good for us) and punishes those who don’t
- supermarkets that refuse to pay at least market value for home produced milk and meat should pay business rate penalties
- pregnant women and parents of children who qualify for milk vouchers should also be provided with vitamin D vouchers which allow them to buy these foods for themselves – incidentally, milk vouchers or tokens should switch into being fruit and veg tokens until the child is eight
- employers should be encouraged to operate flexible lunch hours so that on sunny days between April and September, employees are allowed and encouraged to take an extra 30 minutes to spend outside walking, or sitting in a park etc, that can then be returned on a really wet, horrible winter’s day
- public sector employers should lead by example
Call it a national action plan. One admittedly that needs a bit of work.
But essentially it is a plan that doesn’t prescribe a quick fix solution but sets in motion a range of low level, preventative interventions; that addreses the cause of the problem and not just the symptoms; that has some front end costs but which will result in medium term and long term savings; that requires some practical adjustments but mostly involves thinking creatively about the deployment of current resources.
I won’t be precious if the Scottish Government decides to adopt it.