I beg to move,
That this House has considered the effect of junk food advertising on obesity in children.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries, for what I think is the first time. I thank colleagues across all parties for supporting my bid for this debate to the Backbench Business Committee, and I thank the Backbench Business Committee for understanding the importance of junk food advertising and its impact on childhood obesity and for granting this debate.
If hon. Members will excuse the pun, the size of the issue is getting bigger. Some 23% of children in reception are overweight or obese, rising to 34% of children in year 6, and the prevalence is higher for boys than girls in both age groups. Over the last 30 years, there has been a substantial increase in average weight in the UK and, at the same time, a decline in the quality of diets. It is predicted that if current trends continue, half of all children will be obese or overweight by 2020, which is just two years away.
Obese children are about five times more likely to remain obese in adulthood, so acting early can protect them from a lifetime of avoidable ill-health and disease. Obesity can lead to a number of serious and potentially life-threatening conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Recently, cases of type 2 diabetes have been reported in teenagers, although until now it has been recognised as a disease of older age. Obesity costs the national health service an estimated £5.1 billion and the UK economy £27 billion each year, so it is of the utmost economic importance that the obesity epidemic is addressed. I fear that those costs are grossly underestimated.
Obesity is strongly linked to socioeconomic deprivation. Findings from the most recent national child measurement programme show that inequalities in obesity prevalence between the most and least deprived quintiles of children in reception are widening faster than expected. Obesity is also twice as prevalent among children living in the most deprived parts of England than among those in the least, and patterns are similar across Scotland and Wales. That reflects the fact that families from lower socioeconomic backgrounds across the UK have the poorest diets, high in saturated fat and low in fruit, vegetable and fibre consumption.
Research also shows that the poorest UK households are exposed to twice as many television food adverts than the most affluent viewers. That exposure is problematic. Food advertising in the UK disproportionately features unhealthy food items, and young children are especially vulnerable to marketing techniques that promote unhealthy food. The pervasive harms of adverts place untold pressures on the poorest in society. Children with low nutritional knowledge are more likely than those with higher literacy to select unhealthy meals after seeing junk food adverts. Junk food marketing exacerbates health inequalities, especially among very young children and adolescents.
Over the last couple of years, there has been much focus on the impact of sugar on children’s health and the growing problem of obesity. However, we must not lose sight of the role that foods high in fats and salt play in the epidemic of obesity sweeping our nation. I am sure that Jamie Oliver’s visualisation of the amount of sugar in fizzy drinks in teaspoons helped the public to understand the issue, but we need to go further. The salt content of processed food has decreased over the past decade, mainly as a result of successful campaigning, and it is now common to find low-fat alternatives on supermarket shelves, but there is more still to do. As we focus our minds on trying to rid ourselves of those few extra pounds we mysteriously gained over the festive season, it is the right time to focus the Government’s mind on continuing measures to continue to tackle the obesity epidemic.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this debate, and she is making a powerful contribution about the scale of the crisis. Prevention is clearly more important than cure, but given where we are now, does she acknowledge that we also need to focus on cure? Does she share my concern that too few clinical commissioning groups are commissioning tier 3 services, which can make positive interventions to support seriously obese children?
I agree completely. We need to consider prevention, cure and treatment. It is a huge problem, and it will not go away unless we tackle every aspect of it. The hon. Gentleman makes a good point.
The debate in Parliament on the impact of junk food, by which I mean food high in fats, salt and sugar, is not new. I talked to somebody just last week who gave me the insight that we have been discussing it for getting on for 15 years—probably more than that, if we backtrack even further—and we still do not have the courage to ban the advertising of products with such a major impact on the health of our nation and our future generations.
Recently, the Select Committee on Health held an inquiry and produced a report, “Childhood obesity—brave and bold action”, followed up in a short report early last year. Both reports contained a strong call for a ban on junk food advertising before the 9 o’clock watershed, yet that was sadly missing from the Government publication “Childhood obesity: a plan for action”, introduced in August 2016.
I am delighted that new rules on advertising were introduced by the Committee of Advertising Practice in July 2017—their impact is still being analysed. The rules banned the advertising in children’s media of food or drink products high in fat, salt or sugar. The restrictions now apply across all non-broadcast media, including print, cinema, online and social media, but that does not solve the problem. In 2015, Public Health England recommended extending current restrictions to apply across the full range of programmes that children are likely to watch, rather than limiting them to children-specific programming. Yes, restrictions apply to advertising high fat, salt and sugar products during prime time, but only when the audience is made up of 20% children or more.
A recent study commissioned by the Obesity Health Alliance found that 59% of food and drink adverts shown during family viewing time would be banned from children’s TV, yet hundreds of thousands of children are exposed to them every week. In the worst-case example, children were bombarded with nine adverts for products high in fat, salt and sugar in one 30-minute period. Adverts for fast food and takeaways appeared more than twice as often as any other type of food and drink advert, while adverts for fruit and vegetables made up just over 1% of food and drink adverts shown during family viewing times. The study also showed that the number of children watching TV peaks between 7 pm and 8 pm, definitely not when children-only programmes are shown.
Although I recognise that advertising restrictions in the UK on high fat, salt or sugar products are among the toughest in the world, we need to be even tougher. The childhood obesity plan published by Government in August 2016 states that it is only the start of the conversation. This debate aims to help continue that conversation and focus on other measures that the Government can take to stop and reverse the obesity epidemic.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this debate, which is similar to one that I secured six years ago in Westminster Hall. The situation has worsened considerably in that time. Does she agree that the plan that she just elaborated on needs action points from the Government along the lines that she has intimated? We need outcome targets so that the next generation of children will see a significant improvement, rather than the deterioration in the current generation.
I agree completely, and I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I was always taught that measures put in place with no targets or goals to meet are meaningless. We need to know where we want to be, and by when.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. I am sure she will agree that the obesity problem is growing and that measures to tackle it have been wholly inadequate. As with smoking, when we know something is harmful, we need a step change in measures to deal with it. An out-and-out ban on advertising—other hon. Members may comment on that—and a consideration of how we could severely restrict how high fat, salt and sugar foods and drinks are sold may be ways to take the strategy forward.
My hon. Friend is right—his background makes him an expert in the field—that no one measure will solve the problem. The Health Committee has called for “bold and brave action”, but we are a long way from seeing that.
No one measure will successfully tackle childhood or adult obesity. It is more than just sugar—many different aspects of food are causing the obesity epidemic. The soft drinks industry levy will play its part, as will Public Health England’s message, which was well publicised over Christmas and new year, that children should have only two snacks a day. Tackling junk food advertising is an important part of the jigsaw.
When the sugar tax was introduced, Vimto, which has its headquarters in my constituency, would have avoided it on 60% of its products because they were already sugar free. That figure is now 100% because industry growth has been led by the fact that 70% of demand is for sugar-free drinks. In contrast, £200 million was taken from the public health budget in 2015-16, £85 million was taken in 2016-17, and 3.9% will be taken each year up to 2020. In some respects, the industry and the public are ahead of the Government.
There has been a step change in the industry. It has realised that if it does not take steps itself, more punitive measures may be imposed. Hopefully, debates such as this one will help the industry and other corporate bodies to take responsibility, which is a good way to address the issue.
It is well recognised that children and young people are particularly vulnerable to junk food advertising. Evidence shows a link between advertising and the types of food that that group prefer to buy and eat. Restrictions to advertising in or around programmes specifically made for children were introduced 10 years ago, but no Government since have made any effort to update the broadcast rules, despite widespread recognition of the health harms of junk food advertising. Anybody watching “Newsnight” last night will have seen that advertisers are finding ways to circumvent the rules, which is not what rules are there for.
By applying broadcast restrictions only to children’s programming, the pattern of TV viewing by children today is not taken into account.
The hon. Lady makes a powerful case about advertising. Evidence suggests that children as young as 18 months old can recognise branded products, so it has a significant and pernicious impact on very young children. Many people may not expect that. Does she agree that the rules need to be extended, not just for broadcast to ensure that they affect family viewing time, but to online advertising as well?
I completely agree. Some of the new restrictions imposed by the Committee of Advertising Practice in July aimed to do that, so that whatever method a child is viewing by, whether it is gaming or whatever, it is controlled. At a meeting just before Christmas, the committee said that it had still not been able to analyse the impact of the restrictions. Hopefully, in a few months’ time, we will get some feedback as to whether they are working or not—let us hope that they are.
Children are viewing TV—and lots of other media, as the hon. Lady said—in different ways, so we are calling for that to be taken into consideration to ensure that legislation is up to date. The rules are outdated and we urgently need an update to reflect changing viewing patterns.
We could debate whether restrictions on advertising are the responsibility of the Department of Health and Social Care or of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, but ultimately we are discussing the health of our future generations. The Department of Health and Social Care should grasp that responsibility and make a difference.
The soft drinks industry levy, which has received a tremendous amount of attention, is a matter for the Treasury, but it appeared in the childhood obesity plan published by the then Department of Health in August 2016. There is no reason why introducing advertising restrictions for the sake of our nation’s health should be deemed to be under the DCMS remit.
The Minister indicated to me that it was too early to have this debate as he may not be able to give any concrete answers, but it is never too early to have a debate on an issue that affects our children’s health. “Childhood obesity: a plan for action” states that it is just the “start of a conversation”. It would be wrong of us, as parliamentarians, not to take every opportunity to continue that conversation. I hope that this debate influences the next stages of the measures to tackle childhood and adult obesity.
We have passed the stage of assuming that the implementation of further restrictions to the advertising of food and drinks high in fats, salt and sugar is part of a nanny state. There is now consensus across the House that responsibility and duty of care needs to be shown to our children and young people through bold and brave actions that will have an impact not only on future generations but on people today.
Before I finish, I have two more thoughts to throw into the mix. First, we should be mindful that there must be an element of personal and parental responsibility. Secondly, it is not a coincidence of scheduling that these adverts run alongside some of our biggest TV shows, such as the “The X Factor”, “Britain’s Got Talent”, “I’m a Celebrity”, “Hollyoaks” and “The Simpsons”. If we are to truly effect change, we need some of that star magic, as Jamie Oliver demonstrated.
The power of celebrity cannot be underestimated. With that in mind, I call on household names such as Simon Cowell, Ant and Dec, Dermot O’Leary and Amanda Holden to take some corporate responsibility, stand up to broadcasters and say that they will no longer be used as a hook to sell harmful junk food to our children and theirs.
My hon. Friend has made excellent points throughout her speech. Certain sports teams and events are sponsored by junk food advertising and companies such as KFC. In that context, corporate responsibility is important, but do the Government need to look at banning such advertising, as they did with tobacco advertising in Formula 1 many years ago?
As ever, my hon. Friend makes a good point. Everybody has responsibility: the Government have responsibility for their legislation and how it is implemented, and there is corporate responsibility.
Finally, perhaps we will start to see organic change from within the industry itself, rather than needing the Minister to formally effect change through regulation. That is the most effective way to get the change that we need, as we have seen with the reformulation that is going on already. If the industry gets the message loud and clear, it can do it on its own terms rather than being forced into it.
I echo the points made by the hon. Member for Erewash (Maggie Throup) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) in her intervention.
The effect of diet on children’s health is a serious and substantial problem facing our country. If unchecked, poor diet could undermine the health of millions of children. I believe that it risks setting back the historic advances made in children’s health in recent decades, including since world war two.
Child ill health is such a significant problem. It is notable in my constituency, where there is a higher than average rate of child obesity, and there are also significant differences in life expectancy between different parts of the constituency. That is in a relatively typical town in the south-east of England.
Other issues related to health inequality include a growth in the consumption of unhealthy food, which is a particular challenge to families, who are struggling with this issue. Better information and less pressure on parents and children could make a significant difference, as was mentioned earlier.
It is my experience that parents are inundated—I do not say that word lightly—with advertising material on a very wide range of media. Messages about fast and unhealthy food are everywhere—on television, on billboards, on takeaway hoardings, on shopfronts, in newspapers, and in shops and supermarkets when people are purchasing food. They are literally everywhere in my constituency. In contrast, factual information from the NHS or from responsible manufacturers is scarce and hard to find.
I commend those manufacturers and retailers who have taken steps in that regard. My hon. Friend the Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn) mentioned a company in his constituency and there are many others. I believe that the Co-op shops have a very effective system of colour-coded labelling, warning of the problems of high levels of salt and sugar, and many other retailers and manufacturers are trying that system. I commend them for their efforts in supporting what should be a national effort to help families on this matter. I hope that the industry will do more to promote that approach and that it will work with parents, schools, the NHS, and central and local Government.
However, the contrast between advertising and sensible advice is enormous. To put it in simple terms, a child or parent in my constituency is likely to see junk food advertising when they get up on TV before they go to school, on the way to school, when they come home from school and in the evening. That is simply an overwhelming set of messages that drives people in one direction. Sadly, the messages in the other direction are tiny in comparison and there is limited public money to support them, as was mentioned earlier.
That all adds up to something that is really quite substantial, and in addition we have to take into account the fact that families have also been under the severe pressure of rising food bills. We should take into account the additional problem that many people face, as their incomes have fallen in real terms in recent years, particularly since 2010, while food prices have gone up substantially —I think it may be by 3% at the moment.
Taking all that into account—the power of advertising, the substantial imbalance in information and the pressure on family budgets—I believe that action is urgently needed and I ask hon. Members to support the motion today and call on the Government to listen to this debate, to understand and acknowledge the serious concerns that are being raised, and to take—as was said earlier—bold and brave action to address this issue.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Maggie Throup) on an excellent speech.
Our thinking on this issue has been somewhat muddled in the past, and I encourage the Government to be bold as they work to improve their child obesity strategy further. There is a huge public interest here. As taxpayers, we all have to support the NHS; something like 10% of the budget of NHS England is involved with obesity-related issues, whether that is type 2 diabetes or a range of other health conditions caused by obesity. So every one of us, as taxpayers, has an interest in this issue.
It is also an issue of social justice, in that—unlike at any other time throughout history, really—it is now the poorest children who are the most overweight. We have flipped what has happened throughout history, when it used to be the poor who were thin and emaciated, and the better-off who were plump and well fed. We cannot allow an unemployable underclass to grow up—children who are obese, who go on into adult life being obese and have a low self-image and low self-confidence, who then struggle to get work as a result, and who have a low income or are on benefits. We are talking about the loss of a lifetime of opportunity if we do not grasp this issue, so it really matters.
It is serious. Lord Patel, who chaired the House of Lords Committee on the future sustainability of health and social care, told the—[Interruption.]
Order. I remind Members that conversations are for outside. Thank you.
Thank you, Ms Dorries. Lord Patel told the Commons Health Committee on 24 October last year that the United Kingdom had the second worst obesity problem in the world, after the United States of America. I want to see action on a range of issues. Credit where credit is due—the sugary drinks levy has been successful, but the Government are now measuring nine types of food. We look forward eagerly to the release of that data in March this year. If we have established the principle with sugary drinks, there is no reason why we should not extend that approach to other foods, so that it will lead in the main part to reformulation, as the hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) said earlier.
I had a good meeting with Kellogg’s a couple of weeks ago. It is making serious efforts to make their breakfast cereals have much less sugar, so there is movement in the right direction, and by extending the framework of the sugary drinks levy to other foods, we could encourage that process further, which would be helpful.
If the Government are worried that there will be devastation in the food and drinks industry, they should take heart from what happened in Thailand. We know from a recent study by the University of Bangkok what happened when Popeye was featured on a lot on television in Thailand. Of course, Popeye—as we all know from our own childhoods—ate lots of spinach and one particular television programme showed children developing fantastic muscles through eating lots of spinach. Those children who watched lots of Popeye programmes doubled their intake of spinach and other green vegetables. So, if some food and drinks manufacturers end up making less harmful foods, perhaps we will see an increase in the healthy and nutritious part of our food industry, which we all want to encourage and we all want to see have a great future in this country.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash, I do not think that only one measure is the solution to this problem. I welcome the specific focus of this debate on ramping down advertising to children, but there is a whole range of measures we can take, including clear food and drink labelling. The traffic light system labels should be on all food in our supermarkets. They are clear and easy to understand; the public can understand them. Also, when we go into a restaurant, why not make the number of calories in what we are ordering available? That would give people information.
We could do so much more in planning. I would like to see health as an objective in planning policy, and to see local authorities having the ability to turn down planning permission for unhealthy fast food outlets right next to schools. We cannot beat the food industry over the head and then allow a proliferation of shops selling unhealthy food right next to our schools. We need to be measured, we need to be fair and we need to have a policy that applies across government.
I would like the Minister to get on an aeroplane and go over to Amsterdam. I am extremely grateful to the Centre for Social Justice for drawing our attention to the Amsterdam healthy weight programme. The Minister looks as if he has not had that much foreign travel, so perhaps we can get him on a plane to Amsterdam before too long. It would not be a jolly; it would be a very serious piece of work. We do not need a pilot or to try a few things here or there, to see what works. We have four years of hard data from the Netherlands, showing that if there is a city-wide approach, led by political leaders, progress can be made. In Amsterdam between 2013 and today there has been a 12% reduction in the number of obese children across the board and an 18% reduction in obesity among the most deprived children. Mayor Eric van der Burg has shown that with political will, a ban on advertisements of fast and junk food in every metro station in Amsterdam, consideration of the built environment, and consideration of health in every policy, progress can be made.
I have raised the matter with Simon Stevens in the Health Committee, and I raise it now in the presence of the Minister: let us see action. We do not need to reinvent the wheel; a model just the other side of the channel has delivered results and we need to replicate that here.
We need to support our health professionals as well. There is an initiative called “make every contact count”, in which every clinician—at the GP surgery or in hospital—is supposed to talk about healthy lifestyles and weight at every opportunity but, in reality, it rarely happens, as they are overworked and time-pressured. Nevertheless, we need to hold firm to that, and to help GPs have sensible and sensitive conversations, recognising that people may find it a difficult and sensitive subject. It is not about embarrassing or upsetting anyone. I am lucky to be able to eat like a horse and look like a rake, but I recognise that not everyone is like that. This is a challenge; many environmental factors make it difficult for many families.
We need to encourage our schools to do the right thing. I pay tribute to Ardley Hill Academy and Linslade School in my constituency. They both have a fantastic graphic on the wall of different types of drink, showing the number of sugar lumps in each. The bottle of water at the end has, of course, none. What an amazing graphic.
My hon. Friend has made some excellent points. Will he give credit to the many schools across the country, including in west Cornwall, that do the daily mile? Every child does 15 minutes’ exercise or walks a mile every day. He is right to encourage schools, but it must be soul-destroying for teachers to go home and see TV advertising undoing their good work.
I could not be more grateful to my hon. Friend. He is absolutely right. The daily mile started at St Ninians School in Stirling in Scotland, and it is a fantastic initiative. If children cannot run, they can walk it. They do not have to bring in special gear. The teachers do it as well, and the health benefits have been phenomenal. The headteacher has said that pupils all look like rosy-cheeked children from the 1950s. Colds and sniffles have disappeared from the school, virtually no one sees the school nurse, and obesity and weight problems have come right down. My hon. Friend has mentioned another fantastic example of a whole-community approach, and that is the approach I encourage the Government to take when they come up with their new plans in March.
It is a pleasure to speak in the debate, Ms Dorries. I congratulate the hon. Member for Erewash (Maggie Throup) on setting the scene so very well and giving us the chance to participate.
As a type 2 diabetic, I have had to learn to have a new lifestyle. I used to have a takeaway almost every night, and two bottles of coke on top. Add stress to that, and all of a sudden I was 17 stone. I am pleased that I am now keeping my weight down to about 13 stone. What is important to say is that I knew there was something wrong but did not realise what. If only I had known that the symptoms were diabetes-related. When I was diagnosed some 11 years ago, food management was important but it would have been more important 10 or 15 years before that, when my lifestyle was grossly affecting my health. I say that as an adult who does not want his grandchildren, Katie and Mia, to be in the same position, with a preventable life-changing illness.
I commend my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) for his Westminster Hall debate on childhood obesity way back in November 2011. Even at that stage changes were afoot. I suppose the question today, six years later is: have they made a difference? I want to give some Northern Ireland stats. The Northern Ireland Department of Health’s “Health Survey (NI): First Results 2016/17” highlighted something that was not so much a shock as a disappointment: about 75% of children aged two to 15 were classed as either normal weight or underweight. That is interesting. At the same time, 17% were classed as overweight and 8% as obese. Over the last decade, the proportions of children classed as overweight or obese have remained at similar levels. Although some might consider that a victory, I would say it is a disappointment, because we should be trying to lower the figures. To have 8% of children classified as obese does not bode well for the ticking time bomb of diabetes. More clearly needs to be done.
I will give some detail about what we are doing back home to show why it is important to be on top of the matter. I recently met constituents who were part of a pilot programme that used social media and games to address healthy eating with children and parents. There has been discussion of funding for permanent schemes since the successful pilot but, as usual, funding is hard to source. Before I left the hotel this morning, I saw on TV children exercising in a school—in London, I think—with Gabby Logan as part of the backroom team. The children did not seem to be doing a lot of exercise, but it was enough to make a difference at that age. There are a number of schemes across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and we, in this place, must determine to have schemes like that one back home, setting aside funding to train children, and also to re-train their parents.
Schools in Northern Ireland have attempted to bite the bullet, as it were—if I may use a pun for us in Northern Ireland—with schemes that allow children to come in early and have their breakfast at a subsidised cost. They have also altered school meals so that they are healthier options and have implemented school rules under which only water and fruit are allowed at break-times. We have a scheme in Northern Ireland—my hon. Friend can probably confirm this—whereby up to 100,000 portions go out to schools. That might not seem a terrible lot, but it is when compared with the population and the number of children we have.
I congratulate the schools on attempting to do everything in their power, but the fact remains that something must be done to help parents understand how their choices affect children. If children are eating healthily—eating their wee bit of fruit—it is terrible if mum and dad, and I say this with respect, are tucking into pizza, chips and a bottle of coke. They must set an example in the home; it is not for the children alone to eat healthily. If children are asked whether they prefer a chocolate bar or a piece of fruit, the vast majority opt for the unhealthy snack. That is fine in moderation, but the fact is that people do not give their children snacks in moderation, and we need to help to change that.
The so-called sugar tax has undoubtedly helped. I welcome what the Government have done and I supported the legislation as it went through Parliament but, as was mentioned in an intervention and as I have stated before, we need to address fat and salt as well. Some of my colleagues, friends and others in the House might say that the nanny state is not what we want, but I very much believe that we sometimes need it to enforce what is best for people. Chocolate bars are made smaller to keep the prices down, which is great, as the bars obviously contain fewer calories. We have implemented packaging requirements that ensure that products clearly show how much fat and calories are in them, and that is great as well. Well done to Tesco for allowing children to eat a piece of fruit as their mothers shop, but are three-for-two offers on junk food wise when someone sets out to buy only one but wants a bargain? Yes McDonald’s is fine as a treat, and well done to the company for allowing healthier options in “happy meals”, but it is not great if people have them on a regular basis.
It all comes back to the message: all things in moderation. All those initiatives are great, but they are not doing the job quickly enough. Under the smoking initiative, we have greatly monitored and lessened the amount and form of advertising, and that needs to be done for junk food with equal pursuit, zeal and enthusiasm. I am happy to swallow the accusation of a nanny state if it means that my grandchildren and other children are healthy, happy and content with their fruit at school and with their wholemeal bread and balanced diet, along with the occasional treat. We should not deprive them of their treats, but we must ensure that treats are not an everyday occurrence.
A better way of handling advertising would help parents to teach their children balance without the children feeling hard done by, or different from what they see on TV. We must do all we can—I must do all I can—for the future of our children and grandchildren in the hope that the lessons will also impact on how adults eat and live their lives. The nation as a whole will benefit. I look to the Minister for the comprehensive response we always get from him. I have already apologised to you, Mrs Dorries, the Minister and the shadow Minister, but I have to leave for a meeting with a Minister.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Dorries. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Maggie Throup) on securing this important debate. Childhood obesity is a stubborn problem in Scotland. Some 29% of Scottish children are at risk of being overweight or obese, and that figure has remained static since 1998. While recent years have seen a welcome decline in childhood obesity from 17% in 2014 to 14% in 2016, that figure is still no better than 20 years ago. As other Members have mentioned, obesity increases someone’s chances of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes, among other conditions.
Every child deserves the healthiest possible start to life, so it is vital that the UK Government and the Scottish Government continue to work across every channel to reduce childhood obesity. They should not simply tinker at the side lines, but introduce a number of radical reforms to extend life chances, reduce the pressure on the health service and create a healthier society overall. Our childhood obesity problem has many causes, and there are many things that the Government can do to help address it. One is the curtailing of the advertisement of unhealthy food in environments where children are likely to encounter it. Evidence shows that children’s exposure to food advertisements can have a major influence on a child’s diet and therefore their weight. Cutting their exposure to advertisements for unhealthy food is therefore a vital tool in the fight against childhood obesity.
I am pleased by the tough line already being taken on junk food advertisements. The total ban on advertising less healthy food during children’s TV programmes or on children’s TV channels is a common-sense restriction. None the less, TV is not everything. Children are spending less and less time watching TV and more and more time on the internet.
We are talking about TV, and we have heard a lot about advertising, but it is important to look at what happens between the adverts: the programming. Some 18 months ago, ITV launched a very good initiative called “I am Team GB”, where it switched off the channel for an hour. Some 2,500 sports clubs across the UK opened their doors and more than 4 million people were motivated to take part in sport. Research shows that food-related programming promoting a healthy lifestyle has as much if not more of an impact than advertising. In issuing charters, it is important that the Government also regulate that programming so that we see a joined-up approach with good programming that promotes healthy living.
Order. I remind Members that interventions should be interventions and not speeches.
I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman. We need a collaborative approach, and not just one reform needs to take place.
Internet usage overtook TV viewing among children for the first time in 2016. As we know, advertising can be more tailored than ever. Custom-made adverts are being beamed relentlessly at easily influenced children, which is without a doubt having the desired effect for those who promote such adverts. It is therefore time for a shift in focus. The battle to ensure that children are exposed as little as possible to unhealthy food advertisements must move from TV to other arenas, especially online. Although that is more difficult, it is no excuse to sit back. That is why I am pleased that, as of June, the ban on advertisements for unhealthy food targeted at children, or featuring cartoon characters, was extended from TV to print, cinemas and online, including social media sites. The new rules are not big new onerous regulations, but simply a matter of ensuring that our existing level of regulation keeps up with the changing nature of children’s entertainment.
I would like many other adaptations to the way in which we educate our young people, and advertise and market to them. For example, as a young person enters a supermarket, they are flooded with sugary deals at the doorway. They have the difficult choice between a chocolate bar or a costlier fruit pot at the snack counter, and they are encouraged to integrate a sugary treat into daily lunches through meal deals. There are endless promotions in the confectionary aisle, but few similar incentives within fruit and vegetable sections. Our retailers are some of the best marketeers in the country and hold some responsibility to act on this national crisis.
I strongly believe that the classroom must provide food education as many children do not have access to that in the home. It is not a tick-box exercise. Lifelong skills with nutrition and cooking nutritious food will in turn support the education of young people so that they consume sugar and other unhealthy foods in moderation, feeding their bodies with the fuel they need, not the fuel they want. For example, home economics is a crucial subject in secondary schools. Initiatives that primary schools partake in, such as school allotments and farm visits, are undoubtedly having the correct impact. Children with sporting aspirations quickly learn what their bodies require to perform, and the encouragement of school sports and hobbies will also play a part in education and the ability to resist junk food advertisements. As a nation we grow a wide variety of nutritional produce, and having been brought up on a farm, I fully appreciate how important it is that we support our British farming industry.
In summary, as the years go on we must remain extremely vigilant to ensure that regulations continue to keep pace with the changing habits of our young people and the environments they are exposed to daily. The problem will not disappear and could escalate at an alarming rate. Advertising affects obesity, so it is crucial for the health of our future generations and our health service that we continue to reduce children’s exposure to advertisements for unhealthy food—whether that is on TV, online, or in person just prior to making a purchase—as well as educating people from a young age about the array of wonderful healthy produce grown on their doorstep.
I congratulate colleagues on their excellent speeches so far. As has been said, we have a childhood obesity epidemic in this country. One in three children is overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school. That makes them five times more likely to become obese adults, putting them at risk of the biggest preventable cause of cancer after smoking. This debate was triggered by calls from the Obesity Health Alliance in relation to the campaign linking obesity with cancer, but as we know, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and many other conditions are related to being overweight.
Some interesting research was done a while ago—I did not have time to dig it out—on what happened when young offenders in young offenders institutions were switched from junk food and fast food diets to healthy eating. The change that had for their mental health and behavioural conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and aggression certainly needs to be part of the Government’s considerations. A comprehensive 10-year study of children from 100 different countries looked at the links between fast food, asthma and allergies in childhood. I asked the Government whether the public health responsibility deal partners could be part of a discussion on that study, but I was told that the focus at that time was on salt. They were dealing with the low-hanging fruit; it is quite easy to address salty food, but addressing people’s addiction to fast food is far more difficult.
Marketing has a critical influence on children’s behaviour. As Public Health England has said, it constantly influences preference and food choice. Food companies promoting crisps, confectionary and sugary drinks spent £143 million on advertising in 2016. By comparison, the Government spent just over £5 million on their anti-obesity Change4Life social marketing campaign. Those figures show what we are up against and the power of the junk food advertising industry.
It is a decade since Ofcom’s broadcast restrictions on junk food advertising to children came into effect, and they do not go far enough. As has been said, children’s viewing habits have changed dramatically. They do not just watch children’s TV; they also watch family shows, particularly such things as “The Voice” or “Strictly”, or reality shows, where they are regularly exposed to junk food advertising. Research commissioned by the Obesity Health Alliance found that children see as many as 12 adverts for junk food an hour while watching family television shows. I support the calls for a ban on junk food advertising until after the 9 pm watershed. That is supported by 76% of the public and 71% of MPs according to the Obesity Health Alliance. The issue does not need legislation—the Health Secretary could instruct Ofcom to act now, and I am interested to hear what the Minister has to say on that.
As the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) flagged up in his excellent speech, it is not just advertising that creates an obesogenic environment for children. Walking past outlets selling high-fat, high-salt, high-sugar foods every day can set back efforts to encourage healthy eating. There is no point having all these programmes in schools to encourage children to be more active and to teach them what a healthy diet looks like if they are walking past a McDonald’s on their way to and from school and probably during lunchtime as well, if they are able to pop out.
The hon. Lady is making an excellent speech with some very good points. She has given credit to McDonald’s for the healthy food it produces. There is no reason why fast food cannot be fast, healthy, delicious and nutritious, is there?
I do not think that I did pay tribute to McDonald’s; I was highlighting McDonald’s as a cause for concern. I am sure that its representatives will be in touch after the debate to tell me that that it offers salads, but I am not sure how many secondary school children pop into McDonald’s after school for a salad. I think there was an experiment in Hulme in Manchester where they thought that teaching people about cooking, buying local food and sourcing it in their local community was too large a first step. In a bid to encourage people to eat more healthily, they therefore set up a fast food outlet that was devoted to healthy food. I do not know how that has gone—I think it was a year or two ago—but it shows that it can be done.
Data provided to The Guardian by the Centre for Diet and Activity Research at the University of Cambridge showed that more than 400 schools across England have 20 or more fast food takeaways within a 400-metre radius, while a further 1,400 have between 10 and 19 outlets within the same distance. In my constituency—I apologise; I am going to have a bit of a go at McDonald’s again—we had an application for a new 24-hour drive-through McDonald’s within 800 metres of three schools, and only just over 400 metres from another. As a council, we tried to reject that planning application, partly because of the traffic, litter and noise concerns associated with a 24-hour drive-through. The application also went against advice issued by Public Health England in its March 2014 briefing, titled “Obesity and the environment: regulating the growth of fast food outlets”, which stated that an important function of local authorities is
“to modify the environment so that it does not promote sedentary behaviour or provide easy access to energy-dense food.”
Despite that, the Government’s Planning Inspectorate overruled the council and granted permission for the drive-through to go ahead.
About 20 English councils, including Bristol, have rules banning new fast food outlets from opening within 400 metres or 800 metres of schools—in Bristol it is 400 metres. The Mayor of London recently announced a total ban on new fast food outlets within 400 metres of schools across the capital. However, I agree with the likes of Brighton and Hove City Council that 800 metres, which I think is only a 10-minute walk or so, would be better. It is not in the childhood obesity plan, and the Government need to do more to encourage that.
The sugar tax has been discussed. Children in the UK consume up to three times the maximum amount of sugar that they should, and fizzy drinks are their No. 1 source. We know that there was a real battle to get the levy to where it is now, and it took a long time to get it introduced. It is good that it is forcing manufacturers to reformulate their drinks to come in below the sugar tax threshold, but I am concerned about what will happen to the £10 million that was pledged from the levy to fund school breakfast clubs. It is good that companies are responding, but it is really important that we support our breakfast clubs as well, and I would like to hear from the Minister on that.
I want to say a little about school food standards. For many children from low-income families, school meals provide their main source of nutrition for the day. I would not be surprised if the Labour spokesperson, my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson), has something to say about that. She has recently run an excellent campaign about changes to universal credit that would have an impact on the number of children receiving free school meals—their main source of healthy food. Legislation introduced by the last Labour Government required all schools to comply with specific food-based and nutrient-based standards, which resulted in significant improvements in the nutritional quality of school food, as shown by research from the Children’s Food Trust.
The July 2013 school food plan sets out 17 actions to transform what children eat in schools and how they learn about food. That has helped, and the new school food standards were widely welcomed when they came into force in January 2015. I was concerned that those standards do not apply to academies and free schools that opened between September 2010 and June 2014, but I received a response to a written parliamentary question yesterday, which said that more than 1,400 academies founded during that period are voluntarily following the standards. I am not sure how many are therefore not following those standards, which I think should apply across all schools.
I would like to ask the Minister about something that I have been doing on an ongoing basis. The Government have the “eatwell plate”, which is meant to set out guidance for what a healthy diet looks like, with certain proportions according to dietary needs. Rather than just being a paper exercise which can be found on the Government’s website, that ought to be used as the norm for how we publicly provide food, in not just schools, but hospitals, prisons and other facilities. Now is neither the time nor the place to go into other issues about cancer-causing foods, but given the proven link between processed meat and cancers such as bowel cancer, for example, the fact that at the moment schools are told to provide red meat three times a week and processed meat once a week needs to be looked at.
In conclusion, it is all very well talking about trying to change people’s behaviour and responses to the stimuli around them, but the Government could do more to remove temptation from their path. The Government should extend existing regulations to ban junk food advertising until the 9 pm watershed. They should support local authorities, and ideally have a standard approach across the country to tackling the proliferation of fast food outlets near schools—ideally the enforcement of an 800-metre limit. They should also do more to encourage schools to provide healthy food to students.
I, too, thank and pay tribute to the hon. Member for Erewash (Maggie Throup) for introducing this important debate. I thank all hon. Members for their thoughtful and knowledgeable contributions.
Today’s debate has drawn attention to the serious problem of childhood obesity, the link with junk food advertising, and the fact that a variety of steps are open to us that importantly would reduce the impact of that advertising. One step that many hon. Members have focused on, to which I can give my wholehearted support, is a more general ban on junk food TV advertising prior to the 9 pm watershed. To me, it seems to be an open-and-shut case. We already have some restrictions in place, so broadening their application is really just unfinished business, or seeing them through to their logical conclusion.
Hon. Members have highlighted some of the stark facts, including the link between obesity and 13 types of cancer, type 2 diabetes, mental health problems and heart disease. We have also heard of the extent of the challenge we face. It is as difficult a challenge and, in some respects, even more difficult in Scotland compared with other parts of the UK. The Scottish health survey identified in 2016 that 65% of adults and, as the hon. Member for Angus (Kirstene Hair) highlighted, 29% of children were overweight or obese. Public awareness remains low, with only a quarter of Scottish adults knowing that being overweight can cause cancer. Every year, excess weight is estimated to cost NHS Scotland up to £600 million. At least one other hon. Member alluded to the £5.1 billion figure, which is the equivalent figure for the whole of the UK.
The hon. Members for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) and for Erewash highlighted the impact on health inequalities. Again, the pattern is similar in Scotland, with 22% of children from the least deprived quintile overweight or obese. That compares to 27% from the most deprived, and a staggering 41% from the second-most deprived quintile. The hon. Member for Erewash rightly pointed out that even that trend can be linked with different TV viewing patterns.
In short, I cannot see how we can possibly avoid concluding that there is a significant link between junk food TV advertising and childhood obesity, and it is good that no hon. Member has sought to do that today. In a sense, the advertising’s very existence proves it. Who would repeatedly invest huge sums of money in advertising if it did not lead to increased consumption? There is a wealth of evidence worldwide to prove the fact, from the American Psychological Association, to studies from Deakin University in Australia. The most recent contribution, by Cancer Research UK, further confirms that children who are exposed to junk food advertising on television eat more unhealthily than those who are not.
TV advertising works, and that is exactly why so much money is spent on it. It is also why Ofcom’s broadcast restrictions on junk food advertising came into effect 10 years ago following, as I understand it, a report commissioned by the Government Office for Science, which identified that same link. Further action by the Government is now necessary, and the restrictions need to be extended to content that is considered family viewing, such as soaps, game shows and those programmes broadcast before the watershed—the generic TV that fills a lot of time between coming home from school and bedtime. The hon. Members for Erewash and for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) set out in great detail why that loophole must be closed, especially given the different patterns of TV viewing that are now prevalent.
Good work on tackling childhood obesity is going on across the UK. The UK Government action plan on childhood obesity published last January was a welcome step in the right direction, and we have also welcomed the sugar tax. In Scotland, we have seen new restrictions on the promotion of unhealthy food as part of the Scottish Government’s new diet and obesity strategy.
As hon. Members have said, there is no one measure that is going to fix the problem. We have heard a huge range of very good ideas today, including action on school meals, the daily mile, labelling, sponsorship, TV programming, education and even lessons we can learn from countries as far and wide as the Netherlands and Thailand. They are all good ideas, but as a minimum start, let us support all the good work that is going on with further restrictions on the advertising of junk food on TV. At the end of the day, our children will thank us one day if we do, but too many of them will pay a drastic price if we do not.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I thank the hon. Member for Erewash (Maggie Throup) for securing this important debate, and for sharing her knowledge in her passionate speech. I also thank the other hon. Members who have spoken this morning for their eloquent speeches: my hon. Friend the Member for Reading East (Matt Rodda), the hon. Members for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for Angus (Kirstene Hair), my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) and the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald), who spoke for the Scottish National party.
The UK has one of the worst obesity rates in Europe, with almost two in every three people either overweight or obese. I am, as hon. Members can see, one of those two. I am back on a strict diet post-new year, with no sugar or alcohol for the foreseeable future—if any hon. Members see me with either or both in my hand, please take them off me—and I hope that by August there will be a lot less of me.
I commend the honesty of the hon. Member for Strangford. I have been on a similar journey to him healthwise, and I hope to share his success weightwise. It is hard though—if it were easy, nobody would be overweight. We have not all got metabolisms as good as a horse, as the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire attests to. However, I started life as a skinny kid and was a slim teenager. I am proud to say that I was a size 10 when I got married, but I still ended up overweight as time went by. Therefore, I worry greatly when I see the stats, as I know we all do, for this country’s children.
As we have heard this morning, a pattern now emerges at a very early age. In 2016-17, almost a quarter of reception children aged between three and four were overweight or obese. In the same year, for pupils in year 6, it was more than a third. An obese child is five times more likely to grow up into an obese adult. I did not start as an obese child, and hon. Members can see where I got to, so it is important that the Government do all they can to ensure that child obesity rates are reduced as a matter of urgency.
As we know, obesity is linked with several health issues: lung and liver disease, heart attacks, strokes, seven or more types of cancer, and type 2 diabetes, all of which could be prevented with healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle. According to Cancer Research UK, continued eating and drinking patterns—alcohol is also a major factor in cancer—could lead to being overweight and obese and could cause an additional 670,000 cases of cancer in the UK over the next 20 years. Diabetes UK also warns that there are now 12.3 million people at an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. If overweight and obesity levels were to be reduced, three in five cases of type 2 diabetes could be prevented or delayed.
Obesity comes at a high financial cost too. Obesity and its related health problems cost the NHS in England an estimated £5.1 billion a year, projected to reach £9.7 billion by 2050, if the Government and the people themselves fail to take any action—as we have heard in the debate, people need to take action for themselves. That is why this debate is so important. If we do not do anything about obesity today, the children of tomorrow are the ones who will suffer.
There are many ways to address obesity. No one intervention is a silver bullet, but it is the Opposition’s belief that action on advertising and marketing can make serious inroads.
Ten years ago, Ofcom’s restrictions on junk food advertising came into effect, but over that decade, our viewing habits have changed, as we have discussed. At that time, the Ofcom report said:
“Advertisements of high fat, salt and sugar products should not be shown in or around programmes specifically made for children...For the avoidance of doubt this measure will remove all HFSS advertising from dedicated children's channels”.
Ten years on, as we all know, that is incredibly outdated and out of touch with the way children watch TV. Children are likely to watch TV with their family or watch programmes that are not on specific children’s channels, such as “The X Factor”, “Britain’s Got Talent”, “Hollyoaks” and other programmes.
A report by the University of Liverpool found that 59% of food and drink adverts shown during family viewing time were for high fat, salt and sugar products and would have been banned from children’s TV. The same report also found that, in the worst case, children were bombarded with nine junk food adverts in just a 30-minute period and that adverts for fruit and vegetables made up only 1% of food and drink adverts shown during that family viewing time. Ofcom’s restrictions on junk food advertising are therefore totally obsolete and in need of a serious update to protect children from the bombardment of junk food advertising from multinational companies.
Many of the charities and organisations that provided me with briefings for this debate called for junk food advertising to be restricted until the 9 pm watershed on all channels, which was something I was pleased to commit to in the 2017 Labour party manifesto and am proud to remain committed to. I hope that the Minister will hear the calls today from hon. Members across the House and will see why an update of the restrictions is necessary.
Children must of course also be protected from other forms of advertising, such as billboard and bus shelter adverts, as well as subtle advertising in films and in made-for-purpose games, which are so prevalent there is a name for them—advergames. “Newsnight” last night noted that there are major concerns with the regulations around confectionary firms and their marketing to children. There seems to be a loophole in the law with regard to advergames, which needs to be closed.
There are also genuine games that are very popular with children although they are not aimed at them, such as Candy Crush—I have to admit to having tried that one myself—which embed advertising in the game and have been shown to drive children's food choices. Sponsorship has also been shown to have a huge impact on brand awareness and purchasing decisions among children. Products high in fat, salt and sugar are often found to sponsor sporting events or teams of which children are a key part of the audience. For example, Cadbury is the official snack partner of the premier league.
The current restrictions do not encapsulate those areas, and in our digital world it is important that our restrictions advance to protect children. Will the Minister commit to holding a cross-Departmental meeting with colleagues in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to discuss the urgency of addressing junk food marketing to children across those forums?
Not only do we watch TV and use the internet differently, but we also shop differently. Our sedentary lifestyles mean that we now rush into supermarkets trying to buy the quickest or cheapest products. As soon as we walk through the door, we are tempted with promotions, such as buy one get one free or three-for-two offers. Such discounts make up for more than half of all food sold in the UK, a higher proportion than in any other country in western Europe. We all love a bargain, but research has shown that 76% of purchases were unplanned and decided on in store, which shows the power of such promotions.
That trend is increasingly prevalent among families from poorer backgrounds who are not able to afford more expensive, nutritious and healthier food, or lack the skill to cook it. It is therefore no wonder that children aged five from poorer backgrounds are twice as likely to be obese, and that those aged 11 are three times as likely to be obese. Following what the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire said, we also need affordable, healthy and nutritious products available on promotion to change habits.
I am sure the Minister will uphold the Government’s pledge to tackle childhood obesity, but their efforts are dwarfed by multinational corporations’ spending on junk food advertising. In 2016, the 18 highest-spending crisps, confectionary and sugary drinks brands together spent more than £143 million advertising their products. I recently met an advertising executive who has turned gamekeeper since having a damascene conversion—he now campaigns against added sugar and obesity. He told me how much effort multinational corps put into marketing specifically to children. It is not accidental, but a deliberate, well-thought-through and lucrative strategy.
Eighteen months ago, the Government launched their much-depleted childhood obesity plan, which left much to be desired. Will the Minister update us on the current situation of the childhood obesity plan? Will he commit to looking beyond it and going further by introducing the initiatives that have been suggested today, such as a 9 pm watershed on junk food marketing, which were sadly dropped from the original plan?
All of the arguments we have heard this morning point to the fact that essential Government action is needed to ensure our children grow up in a healthy environment so they can be fighting fit for the future. I hope the Minister will take these suggestions back to his Department and think about how they can be implemented into a serious drive to reduce childhood obesity over the next 10 years. Childhood obesity must be addressed. We cannot have a soft-touch approach. We must do this for future generations of children, and make a promise to them that they can be some of the healthiest children in the world.
Child obesity remains one of the top public health challenges on my desk and for the Government. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Maggie Throup) on securing this debate through the offices of the Backbench Business Committee. I also thank the Health Committee for its ongoing inquiry into child obesity. Its Chair is not able to be here today, but she has a great personal interest in this subject. Ministers always say that debates are wide-ranging, useful and interesting, but this one certainly has been—it has been much wider than the title of the debate. We have learned a number of things, not least the shadow Minister’s new year activities. She has learned about the work of the pop band the Editors and advergames in the last week alone, and it sounds like one of her new year’s resolutions is to look into Candy Crush—the things you learn here!
As colleagues who are still here will be aware, the latest figures continue to show that our childhood obesity rates remain too high. About a third of children leaving school are overweight or obese. I and the Government will not accept that. In addition, evidence shows that the deprivation gap in obesity prevalence between children in the most and least deprived areas continues to widen. Again, I definitely will not accept that. My hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) made that point well. When she first came to office, the Prime Minister spoke on the steps of Downing Street about the burning injustices she sees in this country. This is undoubtedly one of the pillars of burning injustice in Britain today.
The gap continues into adulthood: obese children are much more likely to become obese adults, which increases their risk of developing serious diseases, as we have heard, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and, of particular interest to me as the cancer Minister, more than 13 types of cancer—I suspect that is underplaying it—including bowel and breast cancer. The shadow Minister and I share a great interest in that subject, having chaired the all-party group on breast cancer for many years together. Obesity is also a major risk factor for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, as a number of hon. Members said. I see this as a huge challenge to individuals’ health and wellbeing, and a huge cost to the NHS and the country. Obesity-related ill health is estimated to cost the NHS some £5 billion a year—again, I suspect that that underplays it.
There is no denying that obesity is a complex, far-reaching problem. It will sadly not be solved by one action alone, as pretty much all hon. Members said—my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash said that in opening the debate. Neither will it be solved overnight. It is a tanker to be turned around. We launched our childhood obesity plan in August 2016, informed by the latest evidence and research in the area. It challenges us all—the national Government, local government, businesses, the NHS, schools and families—to play our role in reducing childhood obesity levels. There are many parts of the jigsaw, and many players we need to tackle, including the healthiness of the food we are eating, how much we are eating—portion size—how active we are and the environment we live in. Of course, marketing plays an important part.
As part of the plan, we introduced two key measures to challenge the food and drink industry to improve the healthiness of the food children eat every day, and those policies are already showing positive signs. The soft drinks industry levy, which is set to become law in April, has already seen almost half of the soft drink market reformulate its sugary soft drinks to include less sugar. Companies such as the maker of Lucozade and Ribena —I will be visiting it later this week to see more detail—and Tesco have led the way by removing millions of tonnes of sugar. That is a crucial step forward in improving our children’s health, as the data shows us that sugary soft drinks are the main contributor of sugar in our children’s diets.
This is slightly off-topic, but Lucozade has been named public villain No. 2 after Pringles, in terms of its plastic packaging. The plastic sleeves around the outsides of the bottles mean that they are impossible to recycle. Lucozade and Ribena are particularly bad. Will the Minister mention that too when he is having a go at the company about sugar?
Order. I will allow that, Ms McCarthy, but that is the only off-issue topic.
It is on my list.
We also challenged the food and drink industry, with Public Health England’s sugar reduction programme, to reduce the amount of sugar in the foods our children eat most by 20% by 2020. Some of the biggest players in the industry, including Waitrose, Nestlé and Kellogg’s, which a number of hon. Members mentioned, have already made positive moves towards that target. Data will be available in March this year to give us a better picture of how the whole market has responded—we will be naming names—and to show whether we have met our year one target of a 5% reduction. We remain positive, but we have been clear from the beginning that if sufficient progress has not been achieved, we will consider further action. We rule nothing out.
We further built on the foundations of the childhood obesity plan in August 2017 by announcing the extension of the reformulation programme to include calories. The Government will publish more detail of the evidence for action on calorie reduction, and our ambition and timelines for that, in early 2018.
Our plan also includes school-based interventions, which a couple of hon. Members mentioned, including the expansion of healthy breakfast clubs for schools in more deprived areas, with £10 million per year of funding coming from the soft drinks industry levy. That is on top of the doubling of the school sport premium, which is flowing into schools as we speak, and represents a £320 million annual investment in the health of our children. The hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) asked whether that cash will continue to flow as companies take action. I will come back to that point, but the Treasury has guaranteed a level of funding over the next three years, regardless of what comes in from the levy. If she wants me to write to her to put that in more detail, I am happy to do so—I have found the note I meant to read out, but we have covered it anyway. Such actions will ensure that we are tackling the healthiness of the food offer available to all families. The evidence shows that that is absolutely the right thing to do.
On marketing restrictions, another part of the jigsaw is how these foods are marketed, in particular to children, which is of course the central tenet of today’s debate. I thank the Centre for Social Justice and Cancer Research UK—I met both last week—and the Obesity Health Alliance for their recent reports highlighting the marketing of products high in fat, sugar and salt, or HFSS, to children. All are welcome updates that add to the debate.
This month marks 10 years since the first round of regulations to limit children’s exposure to marketing of products high in fat, salt and sugar, when we banned advertising of HFSS products in children’s television programming. We monitor that closely, including in my own home. At the weekend I tried to explain the premise of this debate to my children and, last night, when I phoned home, they told me that while watching a well-known commercial television channel they saw a slush drink mixed with sweets. Such products are being monitored closely in the Minister’s household as well as by my officials. When I get home, I will ask my children to show me that.
Recently, we welcomed the Committee of Advertising Practice strengthening the non-broadcast regulations to ban marketing of HFSS products in children’s media, including in print, cinema, online and on social media. That point was made strongly by my hon. Friend the Member for Angus (Kirstene Hair) in her excellent speech.
The restrictions that the UK has in place, therefore, are among the toughest in the world, but I want to ensure that in the fast-paced world of marketing—many people spoke about how quickly that world is moving—it stays that way. We heard lots of “go further” calls, including by the hon. Member for Bristol East, and that is why we have invested £5 million to establish a policy research unit on obesity that will consider all the latest evidence on marketing and obesity, including in the advertising space. That is also why we are updating something called the nutrient profile model, which does not sound exciting but is important. It is the tool that helps advertisers determine which food and drink products are HFSS and, as a result, cannot be advertised to children. The purpose is to ensure that the model reflects the latest dietary advice. Public Health England expects to consult on that in early 2018.
In that context, what measures are in place or is the Minister considering putting in place regarding online advertising to children?
I will come on to that—if I do not, I will write to my hon. Friend—so I ask him to bear with me.
My hon. Friend the Member for Erewash, who opened the debate, said that the Department should have the lead on advertising. I am not sure that my friends in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport will agree, but I understand her point. I have noted that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, the Department of Health and Social Care, the Department for Education and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have all been touched on in the debate. I reassure the House that tackling the challenge is a cross-Government concern. The childhood obesity plan that was published is a cross-Government plan, and all Departments have a rightful role to play, which continues to be the case as that plan is delivered.
The hon. Member for Westminster Hall, otherwise known as the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), spoke well as always. I know he had to leave—he let the Chair and me know that. He spoke about food management and touched specifically on diabetes. He actually said, “If only I had known the damage being done”—I have heard that so many times. On Friday, I visited a brilliant organisation called LifeLab at Southampton General Hospital, which is partly funded by Southampton University. LifeLab empowers children through scientific inquiry to understand the impact on their bodies of their behaviour, the food that they eat and the drinks that they drink. A new spin-off called Early LifeLab goes into primary schools, while secondary schoolchildren from Southampton, across the south of England and further afield come into LifeLab to understand. So in answer to, “If only I had known,” that is what LifeLab does. I am very interested in looking at evaluations of LifeLab as it goes forward and in how that work might be built into a wider public policy roll-out.
My hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire made an excellent speech, as he always does. He rightly said that the poor are the most negatively affected, and we have touched on that point. I thank him for his Thailand, Popeye and spinach example. He also mentioned local authorities and planning. Local authorities have a range of powers to create healthier environments in their area through local plans and individual planning decisions. The national planning policy framework makes it clear that health objectives should be taken into account. The DHCLG is in the process of updating the framework to see if other aspects can be strengthened.
I thank my hon. Friend for making that point, and for the offer of a weekend together among the spring tulips in Amsterdam, which is very appealing on a cold January morning in Westminster. He also mentioned the Centre for Social Justice which, as I said, I met last week. I am very interested in its work. He touched on Making Every Contact Count and GPs. He is absolutely right about that and we could do much better. It is a subject that I am sure will come up over dinner later this week when I go to the annual dinner at the Royal College of General Practitioners.
My hon. Friend was intervened on by our colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas), on the daily mile. At every single school that I go into, whether as a local MP or as a Minister, I ask if the daily mile is being done. That has been a brilliant import from north of the border and it is excellent. I hope that every Member who goes into a school talks about the importance of the daily mile and encourages them to do it.
Many other points were made. My hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire talked about colour coding and the traffic-light system. Our colour-coded, front-of-pack labelling scheme is voluntary at the moment. It covers about two thirds of the market. We will consider other available labelling options as part of our withdrawal from the European Union—he has my guarantee on that.
The hon. Member for Reading East (Matt Rodda) spoke about the imbalance of information. His point was well made, I thought, about manufacturers and industry providing more information than the NHS does in his constituency. I would say that the Government have a strong voice in this debate, and rightly so, which is why we are seeing good progress on delivery of the plan, but we are also investing in the highly successful Change4Life programme, which I am responsible for through Public Health England. It informs families about healthier eating. Can we do more? We can, without doubt, in the public health and prevention space.
The hon. Member for Bristol East mentioned the “eatwell plate” in reference to the public sector. To respond, we have in place robust standards for public sector procurement, the Government buying standards for food and catering services. DEFRA is the lead Department and comes into the story here. It continues to drive compliance across other Departments and among NHS hospitals, which are required to meet the standards through the NHS standard contract. The hon. Lady makes a good point. She also raised the issue of academies, and I understand that the Department for Education will shortly begin a campaign to get them all signed up. I thank her for making that point.
In conclusion, from day one we have been consistently clear that the childhood obesity plan marked the start of the conversation—it has never been the final word. We continue to learn from the latest evidence. We are confident that the measures we are taking will lead to a reduction in childhood obesity over 10 years, but we take nothing for granted and will keep everything under review. I thank all Members for their contributions and look forward to further ones.
I thank you, Ms Dorries, and all hon. Members who have contributed to the debate, including the Minister for his response.
We have had some informative, passionate and wide-ranging speeches, for which I thank everyone. The House is truly at its best when it speaks with one voice. I know that the Minister will take note of the strength of feeling on this important issue and act accordingly. Childhood obesity is a ticking time bomb of public health. The Minister has acknowledged that it is a challenge and a cost both to the individual and to the NHS.
My hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) highlighted some working examples of where bold and brave action has taken place. The Amsterdam example is something that we should all be looking at, bringing together not only national Government but local government, industry and local people. That is so important and the issue is definitely not going to go away.
The health of our nation must be put at the top of our agenda. I believe that by taking a simple but tough stance on junk food advertising now, we will start to make real progress on the issue that will pay dividends in the years to come. As chair of the all-party group on obesity and a member of the Health Committee, I will continue to push for every measure possible to tackle the obesity epidemic well into the future.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the effect of junk food advertising on obesity in children.
House of Commons Hansard
16 January 2018