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Children: Obesity

Volume 791: debated on Thursday 10 May 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have as part of their review of the Childhood Obesity Plan for Action to work with the BBC to ensure that efforts to reduce obesity involve schoolchildren nationwide.

My Lords, broadcasters have an important role in shaping the national conversation about reducing obesity and promoting healthier lifestyles, as has been demonstrated by recent programming. Officials from my department are in discussions with those in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to explore how we can work together with broadcasters on this important issue.

I am grateful to the Minister for that helpful and hopeful reply. Like the noble Lord, Lord McColl, I believe that we need a major overarching campaign that must be focused on children, and principally the BBC would be the organisation to lead it. I hope the discussions that are taking place will produce a positive programme so that we can see that the 8 million children, many of whom have a serious problem and face difficulties ahead, are given the assistance they need to get to better health in the future.

I applaud the noble Lord for the work that he is doing. I know he has written to my noble friend Lord Hall about this topic. I think other broadcasters have a role to play as well; we know that broadcasters in the past have had a critical role to play. I remember the Just Say No campaign when I was growing up, as well as campaigns that focused on the prevention of HIV/AIDS. So there is an important role to play here. Broadcasters are not always polite about government actions, but nevertheless we want to support them in their important role in this position.

My Lords, for noble Lords who may be confused, there are two different Questions in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, on the two different Order Papers—and I am delighted that the Minister has responded to the one in House of Lords Business. On a daily basis we seem to be getting reports that further prove that there is going to be a generation of children who die ahead of their parents because of the scourge of childhood obesity. The BBC is to be congratulated on commissioning Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s latest campaigning series, which culminated last night in a rather uncomfortable episode for the Government. When the childhood obesity strategy was published, we were told it was the first part of a conversation. Is the Minister able to tell us when we might hear the second part?

My Lords, for the avoidance of doubt, I thank my noble friend for pointing out that we are talking about obesity rather than the NHS constitution—which is just as well because I had not prepared for that. She has been steadfast in campaigning on this issue. We know that the problem presents some uncomfortable truths. The Government have taken some significant actions in this area, such as the soft drinks levy, but we have always said that we will not rest if we do not think they are having the impact that we want them to. There is emerging evidence that we need to go further. I cannot give my noble friend a date on further action but I can tell her that this is the subject of most serious consideration at the centre of government.

I first congratulate the Government on last night’s announcement that there will now be golden hellos for postgraduate students into hard-to-recruit nursing posts in mental health, learning disability and district nursing—which, in the longer term, will help solve some of the problem of childhood obesity. The relationship between obesity and poor health is proven, yet our schools fail to fully embrace tackling this issue. Does the Minister agree that if pilot schools and their pupils were exposed to substantial public health interventions from community-based nursing teams, and their successes and challenges were part of a BBC series, it would be an experiment that might have significant benefits both in assisting a reduction in weight gain and promoting mental health and well-being in children and adolescents more widely?

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her acknowledgement of that important step forward in recruiting nurses to hard-to-recruit areas. That is important because we want more mental health, learning disability and district nurses in the future. They have an important role to play in schools. If I may say so, the noble Baroness is slightly underplaying the work that schools are already doing in this area. We have talked about the Daily Mile programme, which is going very well, with 900 schools in England adopting it. Learning about food, healthy eating and nutrition is a compulsory part of the curriculum in key stages 1, 2 and 3. However, I agree that there is always a need to do more.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that when you cook your meals from scratch, you know what is in them and are more likely to stay healthy? Can he assure me that children learn to cook in schools, not just the theory of nutrition? Will he also join me in encouraging the BBC to produce a cookery programme aimed at children?

I am turning into the commissioner of children’s programming. I am trying to remember—I think that there is actually a CBBC programme that encourages children to cook. Its name has gone completely out of my mind but it was popular with my children. The noble Baroness raises an important point. Children learn to cook in primary schools, most of which have some sort of kit that allows them to do that. It is critical for them to understand that food does not just come from packets or shops but can be created by hand—and enjoyably, too.

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that it has been shown that having a good breakfast, such as an egg or two in the morning, reduces one’s appetite for the rest of the day, and one’s weight? One of the problems for children is that many do not get a good breakfast. Can the Government do anything to encourage breakfast as a proper meal?

It goes to show that public health campaigns can be effective. I remember the “Go to work on an egg” campaign—although I had a banana myself. The serious point is that too many children do not go to school after a proper breakfast, and one of the great advances with the sugar levy has been a commitment of around £26 million to support breakfast clubs in about 1,500 schools in areas that unfortunately have the worst outcomes for healthy children and obesity. That support will help those children go to school on a good breakfast and function properly.

Does the Minister agree that one of the tragedies of the demise of so many Sure Start programmes was that parents were engaged in not just nurturing but understanding what happened to their children, particularly in poor areas where junk food was bought as opposed to learning to cook? Will he put some emphasis on parents being taught how to cook nutritious food, and not just children?

I could not agree with the noble Lord more about the importance of good parenting and parents setting an example in this area. I would focus on a major Public Health England initiative, Change4Life, which is about equipping parents with the knowledge and understanding of how to prepare good-quality, healthy meals that are affordable.