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Obesity (Physical Activity)

Volume 487: debated on Tuesday 10 February 2009

The Government strategy document “Healthy Weight, Healthy Lives” sets out the steps that we are taking to tackle obesity. In addition, tomorrow the Government will publish a new national plan for the delivery of physical activity alongside sport for the period leading up to the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games, and beyond. The plan is part of the wider cross-Government strategy, including the flagship Change4Life campaign, to increase participation in physical activity and to reduce obesity.

I congratulate the Secretary of State on the strategy to be launched tomorrow. It is vital that there should be a co-ordinated approach to the issue locally. As he knows, and as the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence clearly explains, physical activity is the best way to tackle obesity in the long term and one of the most cost-effective ways of doing so. There is a great deal of experience in county sports partnerships. Will he ensure that there is a co-ordinated approach with primary care trusts and CSPs locally, so that there is no duplication? Over time, will he ensure that there is an increase in funding from the Department of Health to cross-match what is coming through sport and other physical activity through local government as well?

My hon. Friend is an expert in this area, and he will be delighted to learn that one of the aspects of the plan to be launched tomorrow is energising the existing regional and local delivery structure. He knows about this because he is chair of Leicestershire county sports partnership. He will be pleased to hear that the plan recognises the important role that CSPs can play in local delivery, and that we are investing new money to enable them to continue the seamless co-ordination of physical activity and sport at a local level. To complete his afternoon of happiness, he will also be delighted to hear that crucially, for the first time, we are setting out the financial costs to local authorities of inactivity. That is an important driver in getting the few recalcitrant local authorities—and perhaps, in some rare cases, NHS trusts—to work together to tackle these issues.

I am sure that the Minister agrees that the main way to increase levels of physical activity is to foster and garner a love of sport in the young. Unfortunately, many teachers in my constituency tell me that owing to the number of Government-led educational targets they have to meet, the first subject to give way to allow them to do so is sport and physical activity. Should not the Minister be cross-referencing with the Department for Children, Schools and Families to guarantee that children from a very young age get the love of sport that we, at our age, had in our schools?

I do not know whether we did have it in our schools. The amount of time, money and effort going into school sports is in a different dimension from when we came into government in 1997; we are not just getting to four hours a week of sport and physical activity in every school, but moving towards getting six hours by 2010-12. Another myth that arises concerns school playing fields. Ten thousand school playing fields were sold off between 1979 and 1997. [Interruption.] “Still selling them off”, says an Opposition Member. That compares with 192 sold off since 1997. Ninety-one of those schools had closed, and every one of the rest had to invest the money in better sports and educational facilities. I am very pleased to set the record straight.

The Secretary of State will know that 58 per cent. of type 2 diabetes cases come from obesity. He took a diabetes test when he came to Leicester, and the Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw), will take one at 3.30 pm today. Does my right hon. Friend agree that one way of dealing with this issue is to have preventive work, not just exercise—on Sunday, he suggested that people should start dancing more—and that people should have these tests so that they can deal with the issue of diabetes and take the necessary medication?

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for the work that he has done in Leicester. I did indeed have the test at the splendid centre in the middle of Leicester. I was fine, by the way; for the record, I scored five. My right hon. Friend did the work to get that centre built in his constituency and to have a mobile testing centre that goes out to workplaces; indeed, it came down to the House of Commons a few months ago, and it is here today. He is absolutely right to talk about the importance of these tests. As he knows, they are part of a concerted effort, backed by Diabetes UK, to ensure that physical activity, proper diagnosis and early treatment are regarded as essential; they should be of the quality that they are in Leicester everywhere else in the country.

With the imminent arrival of Lent and the associated resolutions to lose weight, is this not a good time to have a gentle campaign to encourage people to walk or cycle to work?

I completely agree with the right hon. Gentleman. The Change4Life campaign is encouraging people to take small steps—not necessarily to seek to be Olympic athletes or champion dancers, but to build activity into their lives. It is helping them to make those small steps, such as walking to work or, if they have to get the bus, getting off a stop earlier. He will have seen the London underground map that Change4Life has refocused to say how long it will take someone to get to their destination if they get off the tube a stop earlier. Those small ways of ensuring that people can change their lives include cycling, dancing, of course—my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Reed) did ask me what steps we were taking—and all aspects of physical activity, with a recognition that according to the statistics, if more people engaged in physical activity, we could reduce the number of premature deaths by about one in 10.

Wakefield PCT has allocated more than £1 million to local and voluntary sector community groups to help them participate in the Change4Life campaign to help people to change their lives. May I press my right hon. Friend on when we can expect the announcement of a final decision on food labelling, which is essential for parents and consumers if they are to make clear decisions in making the choices that they face in supermarkets? May I also press him on the point that, as part of Change4Life, we should educate parents about the dangers of sweet, sugary drinks and the hundreds of calories that they contain, with zero vitamins or benefits for children?

My hon. Friend has done sterling work in this field. I cannot give her a date on which we will make a final statement on food labelling, because the Food Standards Agency has been asked to carry out that work for us, and until it is complete, we cannot make a statement. I will say, however, that this country is well ahead of other countries in the world because retailers have voluntarily adopted food labelling systems. We would like one system, because that would be less baffling and less complex for consumers, but we admire the work that has taken place in this country to put voluntary food labelling at the forefront of these campaigns.

I must say to the Secretary of State that after getting slapped down by Lord Mandelson the week before, it was good to see him get one up on Lord Mandelson this Sunday by having his own “Strictly Come Dancing”. No doubt he will invite the noble Lord Mandelson to be a participant in that.

I welcome the announcement of the Active England strategy, but it has taken a year to get there. I am afraid that the Secretary of State has got it wrong about school sports. The Government are not meeting their commitment to ensure that all pupils get two hours of sport a week in schools. In the school sport survey last October, the number of 11 to 16-year-olds getting two hours of exercise had gone down from 88 per cent. to 83 per cent. in a year. Will the Secretary of State, with his colleagues at the Department for Children, Schools and Families, ensure that the commitment to a minimum of two hours of exercise in schools is achieved, and will he tell us when will it be achieved?

From memory, the proportion of young children getting two hours of exercise in schools was about 24 per cent. when we came into government, so a drop—[Interruption.] Incidentally, I am not sure about the statistics that the hon. Gentleman just quoted. If there has been a slight drop, it should be seen in that context. Sport in our schools is essential to the sort of message that we seek to deliver, which is why we have pledged not just effort and time, but a huge amount of finance to meet those targets. And we will meet the target in 2010, just as I am absolutely sure we will move on to meet the extended target in 2012.