By Dr Tom Bird

AS a father, I know how it feels to be responsible for every aspect of my children’s young lives. I know I have a duty to provide a home environment which will give my family the best odds of growing up healthy and happy. Part of this responsibility is doing my best to be a good role model and making sure my children are eating a nutritious diet.

While this is difficult territory, it’s also incredibly important to get it right. As a liver transplant doctor, unfortunately I regularly see the damage poor diet and excess weight can do.

While alcohol is a well-known toxin, many patients I see are surprised to hear that it’s being too heavy that’s caused their liver disease. And while I understand how difficult it can be, with almost three in 10 cases of liver cancer attributed to obesity, keeping a healthy weight is so important.

Within Scotland’s hospitals, we’re witnessing relentless increases in patients requiring treatment for liver cancer and it’s tragic so many people are dying from this disease. Indeed, statistics published just last month show us just how bad things have got – over the last decade, death rates from all forms of liver cancer in Scotland have increased by a startling 45 per cent.

While personal responsibility is central, there’s a role for government here too.

Walking around the supermarket aisles, special offers for crisps, biscuits and cakes are everywhere, encouraging us all to stock up as we take advantage of “three for two” or “two for a pound” so-called bargain buys. And once at home, they don’t stay in kitchen cupboards for long. With temptation calling, they’re eaten all too quickly.

The Scottish Government is currently halfway through a public consultation in which it is asking how best to reduce harms to health from foods high in sugar and fat. The obesity problem is not in doubt and the Scottish Government has acknowledged that price promotions on junk food have a part to play. What’s now being considered is the most effective way of restricting these.

It’s clear to me, and others at Cancer Research UK, that laws to restrict supermarket multi-buy offers on junk food would be an effective measure, helping families to avoid filling their shopping trolleys with foods rich in fat and sugar.

Liver disease is preventable and reversible and so, while the current statistics are stark, all is not lost – the current obesity epidemic can be turned around. The sooner action is taken, the easier this will be.

It’s vital the Scottish Government is bold and puts the nation’s health first, just as it did by introducing a minimum unit price for alcohol. Scaling down Scotland’s weight problem by helping us all to eat a better diet will not only make us feel better but can help our liver health and reduce the risk of developing cancer.

As a parent, I appreciate all the assistance I can get. In my view it’s helpful if healthy food choices are put, as opposed to the spotlight shining on those that are harmful.

As a liver transplant doctor, I’m no stranger to the responsibility of caring for patients. As a parent, I have a duty to care for my children’s well-being. The Scottish Government has a heavier burden – it’s accountable for the health of Scotland’s population, both now and in the future. It absolutely must take this responsibility in its stride, lead the way and take the bold action necessary to improve the health of everyone in its care.

Dr Tom Bird is a scientist at Glasgow’s Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute and an honorary consultant hepatologist at the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh.