THE cost-of-living crisis could be the next public health crisis, especially for children, one of Nicola Sturgeon’s scientific advisers has warned.

Devi Sridhar, who worked with the First Minister on the Covid pandemic, said her biggest current worry was the worsening financial hardship faced by poor families.

She told an audience at the Edinburgh Fringe that poor diet, housing and health in children's early years would create a legacy of chronic conditions for future generations.

She suggested hospitals might see more children with respiratory problems because they had to stay in unheated homes.

The American academic, Professor and Chair of Global Public Health at Edinburgh University Medical School, also spoke about her vilification on social media from anti-vaxxers and trolls who saw her as too close to the SNP and Ms Sturgeon.

She conceded some of the abuse directed at her had been hurtful, but she had also learned to discount most of it as it came from habitual haters she likened to “a swarm of midges”.

She said: “It was hard at the start because I was like, Why do they hate me? And then I started to realise they hate everybody. Everyone in the public space gets this.”

Prof Sridhar also criticised Rishi Sunak’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme to subsidise the hospitality sector, saying there was research saying it triggered a new wave of Covid.

She called it a “populist move” that involved “just packing people into restaurants where they got Covid” before there was a vaccine.

She said it was always possible a new vaccine-resistant Covid strain could emerge, but she was also confident pharma companies would be able to respond to it quickly.

Prof Sridhar was appearing in conversation with journalist Graham Spiers at the Stand New Town Theatre where she was promoting her new book Preventable.

Asked in an audience Q&A about preventative public health measures, she said: “I think the biggest issue now I’m really worried about is what it means for children in the cost of living crisis.

“How many kids are going to be in unheated homes? Do we think they’re going to have respiratory issues? Do we think they’re going to show up in hospitals wheezing and not being able to breathe? That's going to cost more for your health system because you're going to be giving oxygen.

“I'm worried about the cost of food. You've gone backwards on some of the efforts to kind of help with healthy foods, school lunches. Now it's getting back to bare bones, you know, people go into foodbanks.

“So I think the biggest issue I'm seeing right now in public health is the cost of living in Britain and what it means for the poorest families when they can't afford basic things.

“In the long term it’s about children. Because if you're not well taken care of in the first 10 or 15 years, that's when you get the chronic issues that hit you in 20 years or so.”

She said she wanted to spotlight “the health impacts for children and for future generations as we head into… what looks like quite a rough winter for many people”.

Speaking about the Covid pandemic, Prof Sridhar was critical of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme launched by then Chancellor RIshi Sunak in the summer of 2020, which subsidised dining out to help the hospitality sector recover from lockdown.

She said: “There are now studies which show it triggered the second wave [of Covid infections]. It was puzzling. If you think about the riskiest environment it is indoor hospitality. You’re breathing, you’re eating, that’s how it spreads.

“I can understand the worry about hospitality. I just think we could have been more creative. We could have said to businesses, Can you remodel overtake-away? Can you use outdoor spaces? Can you use ventilation?

“We need to find other ways of keeping businesses open, but actually ways that align with public health guidance, not just like, ‘Oh the virus has gone, pack into restaurants and we’ll subsidise it.’

“I think it was a populist move at the time and perhaps I think we should have all recognised collectively that hospitality was struggling.

“The question is, How could we have kept it alive with take-aways, by subsidisinglocal shops, vouchers, these kinds of things. That’s what we should have been thinking about instead of just packing people into restaurants where they got Covid. That was before we had a vaccine actually.”