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House of Lords Hansard
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26 May 2016
Volume 773

Question

Asked by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to tackle obesity.

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My Lords, tackling obesity, particularly in children, is one of our major priorities. The Government are developing a strategy that will look at everything that contributes to a child becoming overweight and obese. We plan to publish it this summer.

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My Lords, I declare an interest as somebody who has been technically obese, so I am well aware how difficult is not only to lose the weight but to keep it off. Does my noble friend not agree that the solution is simple but not easy—that we should eat less and healthily and move more? If we do not do this and if the Government do not grip it, both the NHS and a substantial number of the population’s lives will collapse under the weight of the problem.

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My Lords, can I say to my noble friend that she looks far from obese today? She looks positively svelte. I agree that obesity is a massive problem facing the country. The chief executive of the NHS even referred to it as “the new smoking”. It causes not just diabetes but cancers and heart disease, so it is critical that we address it—and it is critical that we address it with people at a young age as it is much more difficult to lose weight later on in life.

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My Lords, is the Minister aware that some food manufacturers and supermarkets are delaying their reformulation programmes in anticipation of the strategy? Is he also aware that they would welcome mandatory industry standards for potentially harmful ingredients so that they do not lose competitiveness when they do the right thing?

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My Lords, I think that the announcement of the sugar levy on sugary drinks has meant that that part of the industry has been forewarned of what is coming in the strategy. Already there are signs from some of the manufacturers that they are reformulating their products—which is the whole purpose of a levy rather than a tax.

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My Lords, would my noble friend not agree that our noble friend Lady Jenkin is quite right to stress individual responsibility, which the Government must encourage? Of course there should be education, but individual responsibility will lead to people losing weight.

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My Lords, of course my noble friend is right that individual responsibility is critical to this. But we have to make it easy for people to make the right choices by providing the right information. Particularly for children, we have to make it easier for them and their parents to make the right choice.

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Has the Minister asked NHS England to tackle the problem of obesity among healthcare staff? It is very difficult for the public to get a public health message about losing weight from a member of staff who is, frankly, obese.

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The noble Baroness makes a very important point. That is what lies behind the chief executive of NHS England’s decision to address the presence of unhealthy food and drinks on NHS properties, and to encourage staff to live a much healthier lifestyle.

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My Lords, does the noble Lord have a view on whether the sustainable transformation plans that are now in, joining all the services in a community, will make a difference to obesity when providers are working with the community and also with CCGs?

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I completely agree with the noble Baroness. Integrated care organisations and accountable care organisations, although similar, will bring together in one pool the money for preventing as well as for curing disease—and will bring in social care as well. That should lead to a much better, more joined-up and more cost-effective way of delivering health and social care.

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My Lords—

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My Lords—

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We definitely have time for two more questions. If we are going round in turns, it is the turn of my noble friend Lord Lang—and then, I am sure, we can come to the noble Baroness.

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My Lords, I wonder whether my noble friend can help me. We used to be told that we should not eat salt; now we are told we should. We used to be told that we should not eat fatty foods; now we are told we should. We used to be told that one glass of red wine a day was good for us; then we were told we should have none. Now we are being told we should have two. Will my noble friend tell us which of these items should exit our diet and which should remain?

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My noble friend makes a very good point. He is as confused about this as most of us are in this House. A very important part of the obesity strategy, when it is announced later in the summer, will be to address this very clearly. All the evidence from more than 600 separate studies reinforces the advice that is already out there from Public Health England, but it has been very muddied over the last five days.

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Does the Minister agree that this is not a matter just of individual responsibility? Many meals are eaten in places where people have no choice. They are provided by public institutions, including hospitals, hospital canteens, schools, prisons and the armed services. Should not all those meals be designed not to further obesity?

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My Lords, I was not saying that it was exclusively individual responsibility, but we have to recognise that individuals must take some degree of responsibility for their own actions. Of course the noble Baroness is absolutely right. That is why we and the last Government introduced free school meals in all infant schools. It is why the proceeds of the levy will be ploughed back into increased sport and PE facilities in schools and why we have the fruit and vegetable scheme for schools. Of course we take diet and food extremely seriously, and where we have direct control, as we do in schools, we take action.

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My Lords, next week, when the House is up, is the centenary of the Battle of Jutland, where some 9,000 men from our two countries died. None of them was obese, I hasten to add, but the standard porthole was smaller than the size of the average man, so sadly many died able to see their way to freedom but unable to make it. Will the noble Lord pass the wishes of this House to all those commemorating the event and the 9,000 men who died bravely for their countries in a divided Europe?

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My Lords, I certainly echo those sentiments. My history is not as good as the noble Lord’s. I had not realised that 9,000 men died in that action, which is a huge number of people. I certainly join with him and, I am sure, everyone in this House in commemorating those very brave men.