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Unhealthy Food

Volume 618: debated on Tuesday 20 December 2016

15. What assessment he has made of the potential effectiveness of introducing (a) a ban on price-cutting promotions on unhealthy food in supermarkets and (b) restrictions on advertising of unhealthy food during family television programmes in reducing childhood obesity. (907987)

In developing the childhood obesity plan, we considered the latest research and evidence on promotions and advertising, including Public Health England’s evidence package “Sugar reduction: the evidence for action”. We have made no secret of the fact that we considered a range of policies before finally settling on those set out in the childhood obesity plan. The plan includes the soft drinks industry levy and taking 20% of sugar out of certain products. We concluded that our plan is the right approach to secure the future health of our children.

I associate myself with the Secretary of State’s words of sympathy for the people of Berlin, and I also add my thoughts for the people of Aleppo, Yemen, Gaza, Mosul and all the forgotten conflicts of the world.

Public health experts have dismissed the Government’s obesity strategy as a weak approach and a wasted opportunity. The Government say that they are committed to evidence-based policy making, but they have failed to acknowledge that relying on voluntary food action without tackling cost and availability is inherently flawed. Will the Minister commit the Government to getting a grip and bringing forward a ban or restrictions on advertising and price-cutting promotions on junk food?

I am happy to reassure the hon. Lady that current restrictions on advertising in the UK are already among the toughest in the world. For example, there is a total ban on the advertising of less healthy food during children’s television programmes. Those have been shown to be very effective. However, we also welcome action that has been taken by forward-thinking retailers on promotions elsewhere. In particular, Sainsbury’s has committed to removing multi-buy promotions across its full range of branded and own-brand soft drinks, confectionery, biscuits and crisps, removing more than 50% of its multi-buy promotions from its grocery business while lowering regular prices for products. It should be congratulated on leading the way.

Advertising agencies and industry bodies can play a key role in ensuring that adverts are appropriate. Will the Minister continue working with the industry to tackle child obesity?

Certain supermarkets persist in placing less healthy foods on promotion near the entrances to their stores, where they are unavoidable. Does the Minister agree that it is not just at checkouts that healthy options should be promoted, and that retailers should exercise more responsibility?

I absolutely agree that putting healthier options near checkouts and helping people to make healthier choices are part of retailers’ responsibilities. What has been notable in my discussions with retailers is that the penny is starting to drop that this is the direction of travel and what the public want, and I think we are going to start seeing a real sea change in the way retailers are advertising.

May I urge the Minister not to go down this ridiculous nanny-state route—which one would not expect from a Conservative Government—of setting up an unhealthy food police to go round telling people what they should be eating and what they should not be eating? No food eaten as part of a balanced diet is in itself particularly unhealthy. If the Government are so concerned about families that are just about managing, why on earth would they even contemplate increasing costs for working families?

My hon. Friend flatters me by saying he thinks I am a nanny—it is really quite a disturbing thought. However, what we have here is an obesity plan that balances the need to cut the sugar in young people’s diets, as a way to make sure they get a healthy diet, and individual choice, which we know is absolutely a Conservative ideal.