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Spiers at the Games: Glasgow, the sick city, says welcome to the Games

I love Glasgow. It is a fantastic city. The environment here is rightly renowned the world over. The human character of Glasgow, perhaps a little rough at the edges, is an absolute gem.

Picture: Glasgow City Marketing Bureau

If you are bored any afternoon, just step into the centre of Glasgow. All of life is there: cool young kids, deadbeats, bustling businessmen of intent, some seriously sexy women. And noise…plenty noise.

Yet this is my question for Glasgow on the 2014 Commonwealth Games: will the stricken city of abysmal health and ailing lives take note and somehow redeem itself?

Will the Glasgow of chronic heart-disease, obesity and shocking mortality levels finally learn that health and fitness are to be valued as life-enhancing?

Don't get me wrong, Glasgow loves sports, especially its football. But the shape of the men and women you invariably see wheezing outside any of our football grounds stands as a testament to this host city's skewed relationship with physical wellbeing.

It remains astonishing what a prominent medical figure said two years ago about the state of Glasgow's health, with its citizens regularly leading the British charts in drug abuse, cirrhosis, lung cancer and a litany of other ills.

"It [Glasgow] is a human tragedy on a massive scale," said Gerry McCartney, one of Scotland's leading consultants in public health, after yet another raft of figures on mortality rates and life-expectancy confirmed Glasgow once again as the sick man of Britain.

Thousands of Glaswegians die prematurely every year because their view of health comes way down a priority-list behind smoking, drinking, eating fat-saturated foods, and because their view of exercise often extends to nothing more than a stiff-legged limp to the off-licence.

I thought about all that this week as I cruised the centre of this city which I adore, the old Second City, with all its qualities and its great history.

The centre of Glasgow was bathed in sunshine. The city bustled to the oncoming Commonwealth Games carnival, with colour, music and fashion all splashed before your eyes.

Buchanan Street, that beautiful Victorian thoroughfare, with the sun slanting uptown in the mid-afternoon, was a circus of noise and ethnic diversity as the city stood on the cusp of these 12 days of the Games. You could not help but be exhilarated by it.

Yet this city is "a human tragedy on a massive scale"? That's what the man said. The host city of the 2014 Games is a near-permanent outpatient queue for bad hearts, dodgy livers, high cholesterol and all the rest.

There is something quite amusing about dormant, sedentary Glaswegians lauding - or more likely, lifting their glasses - to the arrival of exquisite athletes. For many citizens, these model athletes, these marvels of sporting excellence, get up to things they wouldn't be seen dead doing.

Glaswegians stand dolefully at bus queues, their fags on the point of petering out, or wheeze across the road as the city's dustbin lorries threaten to mow them down. Not for many of them the gleaming, honed lifestyles of the Commonwealth's athletes they are about to celebrate.

No-one seems to be quite sure why Glasgow is so sick. It splits medical opinion. Does the city feel alienated? Is it just slothful (not a lot in Glasgow's great industrial past would corroborate that)? Does the west of Scotland weather make delinquency and ill-health natural co-habitants around here?

It's all a bit of a mystery. Leading health advisers in this county can't quite fathom Glasgow's inclination to poor health. Yet they know it to be a concrete fact.

So the signs are going up everywhere, all over the ill city: 'Ride your bike', 'Walk to the Games', 'Get fit for Glasgow 2014'.

These Commonwealth Games have become a call to arms for Glaswegians to put down their pint glasses and lift up their pedometers.

I'm not discounting the new age of vibrant young Glaswegians: the joggers, the power-walkers, the cyclists, the free spirits. Of course you cannot generalise any city or country. This city is radically changed in its values and outlook over the past 40 years.

But the stereotypes about Glasgow endure, precisely because the medical facts back them up.

Scotland still boasts the worst life-expectancy rate in western Europe - and the root of it all is Glasgow. So these Games of 2014 carry a certain message of urgency to its host city.

Glasgow, as only Glasgow can, is saying "welcome" to the Commonwealth Games and its athletes.

The Games, in turn, is saying to Glasgow: "Look at you. Look at the state of you. Shape up. Get fit."

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Health

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