8. Statement by the Deputy Minister for Mental Health and Well-being: Update on healthy food environment legislation

– in the Senedd at 5:28 pm on 27 June 2023.

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Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour 5:28, 27 June 2023


Item 8 is next, a statement by the Deputy Minister for Mental Health and Well-being, update on healthy food environment legislation. I call on the Deputy Minister, Lynne Neagle.

Photo of Lynne Neagle Lynne Neagle Labour 5:29, 27 June 2023

Thank you, Dirprwy Lywydd. I am today announcing my intention to bring forward subordinate legislation in Wales to restrict the placement and price promotions of products high in fat, sugar and salt in retailers with over 50 staff members. This takes forward our commitment as part of our healthy food environment consultation, which closed on 1 September last year, to improve our diet and help prevent obesity.

The legislation, which will be brought forward next year, with at least a further 12-month implementation period for businesses up to 2025, will include location and volume price promotions. However, I am also minded to include temporary price promotions and meal deals within scope. It is not enough to only restrict volume price promotions such as multibuy offers, as we know that temporary price reductions make up the majority of food and drink promotions, and all types of promotion are skewed towards products that are high in fat, sugar and salt. In 2018, temporary price reductions accounted for 24 per cent of total food and drink spend, compared to 8 per cent on multibuys.

Photo of Lynne Neagle Lynne Neagle Labour 5:30, 27 June 2023

Our diet is shaped by the options and opportunities available to us. When our high streets are full of fast food takeaways and our supermarket shelves are stacked with foods laden in fat, sugar and salt, it is no wonder that many of us struggle to eat healthily. On a typical food shop, we push our trolleys through whole aisles devoted to crisps and savoury snacks, we walk by thousands of litres of fizzy soft drinks and peruse chest freezers stacked high with highly processed pizzas and battered products. We know that products high in fat, sugar and salt are far more likely to be given prominent positions within our stores and to be promoted heavily. Meal deals, whether for lunch or evening meal, can provide a quick and convenient option for time-poor shoppers. However, if we look at the choices on offer, there are too many high fat, sugar or salt items with little nutritional value, and shoppers are being incentivised to over-consume, into buying a king-sized chocolate bar with their sandwich or a tub of ice cream with their evening meal.

Most of us want to buy and eat a healthy diet. However, the sheer ubiquity of less healthy options combined with aggressive marketing make this difficult. Price promotions increase the amount of products that we buy and consume by about a fifth and these products are often higher in fat and sugar. This means that we are often spending money on items that we didn’t intend to buy and don’t really need. Because most of these products are high in fat and sugar, this equates to tens of thousands of additional calories consumed by the average person every year.

Let me be clear about how this average diet is affecting our health. Over 60 per cent of adults in Wales are above a healthy weight, and over a quarter of children are overweight or obese by the time they start school. More than 200,000 people in Wales have been diagnosed with diabetes, mostly type 2 diabetes—this is 8 per cent of the adult population, the highest prevalence in the UK. Analysis by the British Heart Foundation has estimated that there are over 1,500 heart and circulatory deaths each year in Wales attributed to being overweight and obesity. Aside from the increased risk of serious health conditions, living with obesity can also cause day-to-day difficulties, such as breathlessness, lack of energy and joint and back pain. NHS Wales currently spends around £300 million treating obesity and obesity-related illnesses, putting our NHS under significant pressure.  

The legislation I am bringing forward does not apply to all high fat, sugar and salt products, but targets food and drink that contribute most to obesity due to their calorie content and the way they are promoted. We wish to consider consistency with definitions set out within England’s locations and volume-based price restrictions legislation to ensure operability across borders. However, we are also exploring the scientific evidence base, which will be crucial. These are all foods that are not needed at all as part of a healthy balanced diet and should only be eaten occasionally. Many of the purchases on these product types are unplanned impulse buys, which lead to additional expenditure that squeezes the budget of consumers. This is particularly the case for the lowest earning households that spend a greater percentage of disposable income on food. 

The legislation is not designed to restrict people’s choice; people will still be able to buy these products. However, most of our food stores do not provide consumers with a choice that can be considered balanced, because there are too few healthy options available, and these healthy options are promoted far less. These changes are designed to rebalance our food environment so that it is easier for consumers to make healthier choices. I acknowledge that some food retailers and manufacturers have made voluntary changes towards a healthier food environment, for example, by not selling confectionery at checkouts, and reformulating some product lines to contain less fat or sugar. However, voluntary changes do not support a level playing field for businesses.

We will be working closely with the food industry and partners to develop comprehensive guidance for retailers to implement these measures. We will also support manufacturers to reformulate products to reduce levels of fat, sugar or salt. We will also be undertaking a consultation on enforcement measures, including how compliance should be investigated and penalties applied in instances of non-compliance. I will notify the Senedd when the consultation is published.

I'm encouraged by initial analysis showing that location restrictions in England have caused a shift in consumer spending away from high fat, sugar and salt products towards healthier alternatives. I look forward to further action by our colleagues in Whitehall with regard to price restrictions and on curbing tv and online advertising of high fat, sugar and salt products to children, which is another vital step to improve our food environment. 

I am still considering the evidence and options for taking forward other proposals included within the healthy food environment consultation. This includes exploring further evidence on calorie labelling, and the opportunities to develop a broader out-of-home approach to maximise the impact of any changes. I am also considering further evidence on banning energy drink sales to children. I will make a further statement on these proposals to the Senedd in due course.

I know that the causes of overweight and obesity are complex, and I do not claim that legislation to restrict the promotion of foods high in fat, sugar or salt by itself is enough to turn the tide on our rising obesity rates. However, this is a vital piece of the jigsaw as part of our 'Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales' strategy to deliver world-leading policies, funding and legislation that help to prevent and reduce obesity. Our next generation deserves a different ‘normal’ where healthier foods are more available, affordable and appealing, and high fat, sugar and salt foods are not a core part of our diet. Our current and future generations deserve better. Diolch.

Photo of James Evans James Evans Conservative 5:37, 27 June 2023

I'd like to thank the Deputy Minister for her statement today. I also want to thank you for an advance copy of the statement and the technical briefing that you offered to me and other Members. It's been really eye-opening, actually, the actual data behind this, and something I'm very passionate about is addressing obesity in Wales. Some of the stats from your statement were quite startling, Deputy Minister: 60 per cent of adults are overweight and a quarter of children are overweight or obese before the time they start school. Data that I've got myself is that potentially 70,000 people could have surgical intervention on the NHS for obesity. Type 2 diabetes is on the rise—a 40 per cent rise in type 2 diabetes—costing £82 million a year to treat. That's a huge cost to the taxpayer. And, as you've said, £300 million a year to tackle obesity. One of the most startling things is the unnecessary deaths that are caused by obesity. These mean that the time for doing nothing on this issue is over.

But, what we cannot forget in all of this is that this problem has happened under this Government's watch. You have been in power for 25 years here, and you could have acted sooner. The Welsh Government could have acted sooner on this problem. We've had report after report from the Senedd committees here, strategy after strategy, but things have got worse. The Welsh Government must take some responsibility for this issue getting to crisis point and acknowledge that the Government here should have done things sooner. Because we're now in a position where we must take those drastic steps to address the health of the nation, because if we do nothing, people will just needlessly die of obesity, and that's something I cannot stand by and see happen.

One element, Deputy Minister, of the consultation and the comms around this was around the meal deal restrictions, and this has caused confusion and upset in some quarters about what the Government is going to do. Deputy Minister, as a Conservative, I believe in personal responsibility, I also believe in people having a choice to choose what they want. So, what I'd like to hear from you today is: can you outline what steps you are going to take around meal deals? Will meal deals, as we know them, change, and if so, what are those changes going to be? And where will personal choice be in the new regulations, as they come forward? I agree with you on your statement that retailers need to do more to promote healthier options and making them more prominent on shop shelves, because currently, they’re encouraging people to choose unhealthy options. So, on that, can you just outline for me what discussions you’ve had with retailers about these proposals and what feedback you’ve had from them to the Welsh Government on how they’re going to implement this, going forward?

Deputy Minister, in your statement, you also said that the legislation does not apply to all high fat, sugar and salt products, but it targets the foods and drinks that contribute most to obesity, so can you provide more information on what sorts of foods will be exempt, and how this is also going to be regulated and how you’re going to communicate that to the public?

Another issue is on enforcement, because we know that our councils are well-stretched at the moment, so I’d be interested to know how you’re going to enforce these regulations. Is it something that the Food Standards Agency will be enforcing, or is it something that’s actually going to be done by local councils?

Also, on planning, we’ve seen far too many times that, where schools are built, or where we have schools, fast food retailers come right opposite them. That cannot be allowed to happen any more, so we need to see more planning restrictions about where those types of convenience elements can go, because we don’t need to see them outside our schools.

There’s also a question around the 50 employees or more. What I’d like to hear from you today is how you are going to address people underneath that, because what we do have are Spars and Londises and different sorts of consortiums around the country, and I want to know how you’re going to deal with those to make sure that companies don’t restructure to make sure that they can get around these rules.

Calorie labelling is also something you know that I’m very keen on, and also, I know that Sarah Murphy is online as well around the eating disorder side of this, and I’d like to know what conversations you’ve had with Beat around calorie labelling going forward, to make sure that we’re not actually having any unintended consequences of what we’re doing around it. And I’d also like to say about the energy drinks side of it as well that I do support you on that; I do not think we should be selling energy drinks to children in our country. They’re highly caffeinated and shouldn’t be given to our children.

It’s positive to see the steps that have been taken in England, which are actually having positive changes around moving people from those unhealthy options and actually encouraging people to make better food choices. But one issue that has been raised with me is whether these restrictions will affect our poorest people in society, people who cannot afford those better meal choices or healthier foods. And is this going to add an increased cost to the shopping baskets of many of those people across the country, as we’re in a cost-of-living crisis? We cannot pass all that cost on to other people.

So, Deputy Minister, to conclude, you are right that the next generation deserves a fitter nation and needs to be healthier, as doing nothing will only put more and more pressure on the NHS, and I cannot stand here as a Member of this Senedd and see our NHS put under more increased pressure due to a failure to act of on obesity. There does need to be a balance struck here between allowing personal choice, while directing people to live that healthier life, which we all want to see. And I look forward to seeing these regulations develop and how this is going to develop going forward into the future. Diolch, Llywydd.


The Llywydd took the Chair.

Photo of Lynne Neagle Lynne Neagle Labour 5:43, 27 June 2023

Can I thank James Evans for his comments, and thank him for his constructive engagement on this work? I know that, like me, James feels very strongly about the need to tackle the burgeoning obesity crisis, and I think it is really important that we work cross-party on issues like this, which are really challenging, so I very much welcome the constructive approach that he has taken.

And as he has highlighted, the figures are really stark and eye-opening, and these are preventable illnesses and preventable deaths, which, I think, means that we have a moral duty, really, to take action in this space to prevent this crisis becoming even worse. And we know that, if we carry on as we are, we’re likely to see 40 per cent of people in Wales classed as obese, huge numbers of people living with type 2 diabetes and even higher costs for our NHS.

You made some comments about whether we could have acted sooner; obviously, public health has always been a priority for this Government, but I think you’ll find that the commitments to an obesity strategy is something that arose out of the Public Health (Wales) Act 2017, which was only passed a few years ago. And we immediately developed a 10-year delivery plan and we are now in the second two-year plan of that. So, this is absolutely a commitment and a commitment right across Government. 

Photo of Lynne Neagle Lynne Neagle Labour 5:45, 27 June 2023

You asked about meal deals, and I just want to be really clear with the Chamber that we are not banning meal deals. People will still be able to go and buy meal deals. What we want to do is make sure they are healthier and more nutritionally balanced. Public Health Wales—and I do want to thank Public Health Wales for the work that they've done for us in this space—have profiled 2 million meal deals in Wales and the results of that profiling are incredibly stark. So, we know that the majority of lunchtime meal deals exceed the average energy requirements, and the best-case scenario is that they exceed it by 281 calories for lunch. In the highest cases, these are—oh, sorry, I'm looking at dinnertime meal deals now—a 1,000 calories over what somebody should have for their evening meal. And it's exactly the same pattern with the lunchtime meal deals. Three quarters of them exceed the recommended level of calories for lunch. The least healthy options would provide two thirds of daily calorie intake, over 122 per cent of daily fat intake, 149 per cent of sugar and 112 per cent of salt—just at lunchtime. So, I think you can see from those figures that we have to take action. 

So, what we want to do is shift the focus with meal deals towards more healthy options. And James, you mentioned personal responsibility—all the evidence suggests that we are well past the stage now where we are going to tackle this crisis by just focusing on influencing individual behaviour. We need a multi-component plan, which is what we've got, and that includes making the food environment more healthy. Because, at the moment, people don't really have a choice, because they are beset on all sides by unhealthy food, which is being promoted and which we're incentivised to buy. So, we want to give people more choice, but of more healthy options. 

We have worked closely with retailers, and I can assure you that that work will continue. In terms of how we will deal with what products are in scope, we will be publishing technical guidance and we're working with Public Health Wales around that. We're very keen to align closely with the work that they've done in England around their restrictions on high fat, sugar and salt products, but we're also looking at our own nutritional analysis as well, and completely agree that communications will be very important and will be a key part of our work. 

As you've highlighted, the planning process has a role to play in this, and that was one of the areas that we consulted on as part of the food environment consultation. What we've decided is, at the moment, we think that we can deal with some of those planning issues through the existing system teams that we've got in place in each health board, and there are some good examples of good work going on in health boards to look at some of those planning issues and to try and prevent the kinds of situations that you've described. But we will be having then a public health and planning conference in October to decide on a Wales-wide approach. 

Calorie labelling has been something that we also considered, and we are taking some time to look further at that. We want to look in particular at the benefits of introducing calorie labelling in the out-of-home sector, following the introduction of similar regulations in England last year. But we also recognise the concerns raised about the impact of calorie labelling on people with eating disorders. So, we're very keen to review the initial findings of the research commissioned by the National Institute for Health and Care Research on calorie labelling and its impact on people with lived experience of eating disorders, and that's due to be completed next year. Just to assure you that I have met with Beat, officials have engaged with Beat, and that listening to people with lived experience of eating disorders will continue to be very key to what we're doing, and I will keep the Senedd updated on that.

Just finally on the issue of people who are the poorest, at the moment the evidence suggests that our lowest income families aren't necessarily using price promotions anyway, because price promotions tend to be on branded products and our poorest families would be more likely to buy supermarket own brand or value brands. But what we also know is that these price promotions are encouraging us to buy things that we don't need. It's increasing our expenditure by a fifth, and those are items that are largely impulse buys that we don't need. So, there is a very strong argument that this will stop unnecessary expenditure, and, crucially, what we want to do is—. We're happy to see offers in the shops and price reductions on the healthy food. That's what we want to do, to make that more affordable for families who at the moment are filling up on calorie-dense, nutrient-poor ultra-processed foods. Thank you.

Photo of Mabon ap Gwynfor Mabon ap Gwynfor Plaid Cymru 5:51, 27 June 2023


Thank you to the Deputy Minister for the statement. Before moving on to scrutinise the statement and asking some questions that arise from it, I want to express disappointment about the public discourse that led up to this statement today. In the same way as we've seen misinformation and, indeed, lies on sex education, and, as we discussed earlier, on vaccinations, the same pattern is emerging here, mainly from the British right-wing press. This misinformation must stop. It's damaging to our democracy and causes public concern without need.

Now, in looking at the statement before us today, I'd like to thank the Deputy Minister for advance sight of it. The ambition to tackle obesity and the habits that lead to illnesses that are related to poor diet are to be welcomed, but, whilst these are to be welcomed, there is no talk about what support will be provided to assist families and individuals from low-income backgrounds to enable them to make these healthier choices, as the Deputy Minister mentioned earlier about the need for this. With the current cost-of-living crisis and the misinformation about this legislation that I mentioned earlier, will the Government commit to develop a strategy to promote accurate information on its food strategy and to support people, specifically those from the poorest socioeconomic backgrounds, so that they can buy healthier foods and make healthier choices? Because the truth is that, whilst there is a strong argument that food is cheap here in the UK, the truth is that unsustainable food and food with high levels of salt and other additives is cheap, whilst healthy and sustainable food is expensive, particularly for the poorest among us. The poorest 20 per cent would need to spend half their disposable income in order to buy nutritious, healthy food, never mind the cost of energy to prepare these foods rather than just using a microwave for a ready meal, say, which would be cheaper. 

It was interesting to read recently that children from the poorest backgrounds born and brought up during the David Cameron and George Osborne years of austerity are 1 cm shorter than those born to more advantaged families. Poverty, therefore, has a direct and visible impact on the health of our children. I'm proud that Plaid Cymru and the Government have started a programme of introducing free school meals to every child in the primary sector in Wales, but this demonstrates that it's difficult for less advantaged people to make healthier choices. So, what plans does the Government have to ensure that healthy foods are competitive in terms of price and are the first option for people of all backgrounds to buy?

Finally, I want to ask about calories. The Government has previously talked about calorie labelling on menus, and the statement today talks about steps towards calorie labelling. But, as far as I can see, there is no evidence that calorie labelling leads to healthier eating, and, indeed, as James mentioned earlier, there is evidence demonstrating that it could be damaging for people with eating disorders. Providing detail about nutrition is a step in the right direction, but not calories. Indeed, following enforced calorie labelling in England, the NIHCR has published a grant in order to fund research into the impact of this on people with eating disorders. I'm pleased to hear the Deputy Minister now saying that the Government will consider the outcomes of the NIHCR study; that will be important. But is there other research across the world looking at this, and will the Government consider any other research to feed into the report? Thank you very much. 

Photo of Lynne Neagle Lynne Neagle Labour 5:55, 27 June 2023

Thank you very much, Mabon ap Gwynfor, for your comments, and for your general welcome for the action that we're taking. And I'm also very grateful for the engagement that we had from Rhun ap Iorwerth ahead of this statement. I agree with you that the public discourse around meal deals has been very problematic, and it seems to be part of a trend, doesn't it, of misinformation that we are seeing so much these days, and which is promoted, then, by social media. And it is absolutely essential that we make sure that people have the accurate information, and that's what we're trying to do today, and will be trying to do with our communications. 

You've rightly highlighted the challenges that people face in the poorer communities in terms of buying healthy food, and that is very much what we're trying to address through these initiatives. At the moment, it is the really unhealthy food that is available on promotion, so we want to shift the balance of the food environment in Wales towards making healthy foods more available, cheaper, and to make the healthy choice the easy choice for everyone. I saw the article that you referred to in The Guardian about people's height, and it does feel like we're going backwards, doesn't it, in many ways. And that's why the work that we're doing together on free school meals is really important, and I'm sure you're aware that we're also looking at the nutritional standards of those free school meals, because it's essential that children have a really good nutritional offer when they're having their free school meal. 

As I said on calorie labelling, it is something that we want to look at further. There is some evidence that it can make a difference to population health, but we are also very concerned about the impact on people living with eating disorders. We've got the advantage, really, of being able to draw on what they've done in England, and learn from the work that they've done. We will be looking carefully at the outcome of the NIHCR research to inform our decision, and there's also research ongoing in Scotland, and we're very keen to look at any research that helps us in this area, and also very keen to continue to have that dialogue with people with lived experience of eating disorders. 

Photo of Sarah Murphy Sarah Murphy Labour 5:58, 27 June 2023

Thank you for this update, Deputy Minister, and also to James Evans for referring to Beat and those with eating disorders, and Mabon ap Gwynfor. I want to reiterate that, whilst I share the Welsh Government's ambition relating to food labelling to promote a healthier Wales, I am also concerned that the proposed legislation included plans to mandate the labelling of calories on menus. I am the chair of the cross-party group on eating disorders, for which Beat, the eating disorders charity, is the secretariat, and they have stated explicitly that calories on menus are dangerous for people with eating disorders. Beat recognises that nutritional information on menus may be beneficial for those with certain health conditions, and fully support increased public education on nutrition. However, they do not believe that adding mandatory calorie labelling to menus fits in with this aim. Rather, it takes a reductionist approach to nutrition, and risks causing harm to those living with eating disorders. They also found that 98 per cent of people who took their survey on this felt that calorie labelling on menus would have a negative or very negative effect on people with eating disorders. 

As you mentioned, the Scottish Government are taking into consideration the concerns of people with eating disorders, and therefore have paused plans to introduce this part of the legislation in Scotland. So, Minister, can you clarify for me what you said to James Evans and Mabon ap Gwynfor? Will the introduction of calorie labelling on menus be paused until the research is published on the impact of such measures on those with eating disorders? Diolch.

Photo of Lynne Neagle Lynne Neagle Labour 6:00, 27 June 2023

Thank you very much, Sarah, and I know that support for people living with eating disorders is something that you feel really passionate about, and I'm grateful to you for articulating the concerns that you've heard through the cross-party group. I think I've been really clear that we do want to look at the evidence. We want to wait and see the outcome of the research by the National Institute for Health and Care Research, and we also want to look at what they're doing in Scotland before we take a decision on this. That's why I haven't made an announcement today about calorie labelling, because we want to see that additional work done. I have met Beat, officials have worked closely with Beat, and we're very keen to continue that dialogue and to make sure that when we do make a decision on this that it will be something that will not disadvantage people living with eating disorders. You'll be aware that, as part of our consultation, we consulted on different options to try and mitigate the impact on people with eating disorders. So, this has been central, really, to our approach throughout. So, I can give you the assurance that what we do will be evidence based and that we'll continue that dialogue with those living with eating disorders.

Photo of Mark Isherwood Mark Isherwood Conservative 6:01, 27 June 2023

Actually I've been asked exactly the same point, because in your statement you say that you will explore further evidence on calorie labelling. Speaking here last December, I warned of the negative impact that the introduction of mandatory calorie labelling on menus could have on those living with eating disorders, quoting a survey conducted by Beat, the UK's eating disorder charity, that asked those in Wales, living with or affected by eating disorders, to give their thoughts on the proposal, where 98 per cent of respondents felt that this would have a negative impact on them. However, the Welsh Government's proposed legislation, as you've indicated, included plans to mandate the labelling of calories on menus. And Beat have advised me that while there's very limited evidence to suggest that calorie labelling improves health on a population level, there is good evidence to show that it causes significant harm to people with eating disorders. And we've heard reference to the Scottish Government having paused plans to introduce this legislation in Scotland, having taken into consideration the concerns of people with eating disorders. So, I will repeat the question, but be very specific: how will the Deputy Minister, therefore, respond to calls by Beat, the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the Royal College of Nursing for the Welsh Government to follow in the Scottish Government's footsteps and pause the introduction of calorie labelling on menus in its proposed subordinate legislation, at least until research is published on the impact of such measures on those living with eating disorders?

Photo of Lynne Neagle Lynne Neagle Labour 6:03, 27 June 2023

Thank you, Mark, for your comments, and I'm aware that this is an issue that you've raised previously in the Chamber. I don't think I can be any more clear, really, about what we're saying in relation to this. We haven't made an announcement as part of what we're announcing today that we are moving ahead on this, because we want to see the outcome of the research that's happening in England and in Scotland, and we want to give further consideration to this issue. The issue of whether calorie labelling should be mandatory at the point of choice for settings out of home was largely opposed by those who engaged with the consultation, with 52 per cent against, and I'm aware that Beat did their own survey, and that's why we want to think carefully about the next steps in regard to this. We also want to consider a broader and more strategic approach in the out-of-home sector, and my officials are considering the responses to the consultation and the current evidence in the field to consider the next steps.

Photo of Sioned Williams Sioned Williams Plaid Cymru 6:04, 27 June 2023


The high rates of obesity, especially among children, and its impact on health is a matter of national importance and causes stresses for the health service, as we've heard, but the Government needs to tackle obesity in a holistic manner, using a public health approach. You've already mentioned the Public Health (Wales) Act 2017, which places a duty on public bodies to hold assessments of the health impacts under specific circumstances, and I understand that these will be included in statutory regulations according to the First Minister. We haven't had them although many years have passed since the publication of the Act, and you've said today that that won't happen still.

A statutory duty to hold a health impact assessment would avoid a situation such as the one that's arisen recently in my region. I raised concern with the Government back in March about the detrimental impact on public health that a development of a proposed McDonald's in Pontardawe, a stone's throw from a primary and secondary school, would have. In her response, the health Minister said that it was a planning issue for the council. The council's planning department said that there was no statutory requirement for them to undertake a statutory health impact assessment. So, I hope you would agree with me that this is unacceptable given the Government's policy aim. So, when exactly will you consider publishing regulations to place a statutory requirement on those seeking planning permission in cases such as this to introduce a health impact assessment?

Photo of Lynne Neagle Lynne Neagle Labour 6:06, 27 June 2023

Thank you very much, Sioned, for your contribution, and can I just assure everybody that we are taking a holistic approach to this? Although today we're talking about legislation, our ‘Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales’ plan is a multicomponent plan that deals with early years, with education, with levels of physical activity, with the NHS. We've introduced an all-Wales weight management pathway, we've got the all-Wales diabetes prevention programme. This is like a jigsaw puzzle, and it needs all the parts to come together. We know that it has to be multicomponent to deliver the kind of change that we will need. So, I'd just like to assure you that that is happening. I could be stood here all day, if I was going to talk about everything we were doing in this space, and I'm sure nobody wants that. [Laughter.]

In relation to the health impact assessments, I'm not sure from where you've got the idea that they aren't happening. We are committed to bringing forward the legislation on health impact assessments, and they will be brought forward by consultation by the end of the year. So, that was a commitment made in that public health legislation. And, in relation to planning, as I say, we are still really committed to making improvements to planning that will impact where things like takeaways are located. We have funded ‘Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales’ system teams in every health board area, so that brings together the health board, local government and others, who are working to improve and tackle obesity in their particular areas, and there are already examples. So, Betsi Cadwaladr are taking forward work to develop access to affordable and healthy food, and that includes embedding assessments into proposals put forward for new planning applications. Cardiff and the Vale University Health Board are also tackling healthier advertising and marketing, and then we've got a conference planned between planning and public health in the autumn, where we're going to consider the findings of the consultation further, and that will give us an all-Wales position on planning. But, just to give you that concrete assurance: the health impact assessments will be happening, and that will be brought forward.

Photo of Jenny Rathbone Jenny Rathbone Labour 6:08, 27 June 2023

I know you're a resilient Minister, and you will need to be, because you're up against it here. We spent the twentieth century trying to persuade the tobacco industry to stop selling lung cancer to people, through cigarettes, and it's only through regulation that they've left our shores, and they are now selling cigarettes all over the world in less-developed countries, and we now have 2 million people dying of lung cancer every year, and rising.

So, the big food industry, we do not want to spend the whole of the twenty-first century persuading them to change their ways and stop adulterating food into things that are actually harmful to people. So, that is going to be really, really difficult, because they routinely adulterate their food with emulsifiers and other chemicals to increase their shelf life and their profitability, and these too, the research now is showing, are also linked to cancer, heart disease, strokes, as well as dementia and mental illness. So, this is a real wake-up call. I respect the pause on whether or not you're going to do calorie labelling, but the problem is way bigger, way bigger than that.

So, in your discussions with the industry to reformulate products to reduce fat, sugar and salt, will you also consider asking them to remove emulsifiers, stabilisers and gums? When did you ever see locust bean gum or guar gum on the shelves? You won't have done, because I'm sure they're completely abhorrent to taste and have no nutritional value whatsoever. So, we have a huge problem here, and this is not about personal responsibility, because those are the arguments that people used with the tobacco industry. We have a way bigger problem than that. If we don't want people to be dying early, and have the stunted growth that's already been remarked upon, we have to take action now.

So, I want to know—. Six in 10 people never cook a meal from scratch, and these ready meals, the reason they're so pernicious is because they contain all these disgusting ingredients, and people don't realise that. Who reads labels that are in eight point? Nobody. So, if at least six out of 10 people never cook a meal from scratch, and have lost the habit of cooking a simple vegetable soup, or in this weather, preparing a mixed salad, where in your plans do cookery lessons sit, both in schools and in community centres, so that we give people back the power to demand that they don't live in food deserts, and that they will get access to fresh food, so that they can make a proper meal, rather than having to serve up stuff that is actually killing them?

Photo of Lynne Neagle Lynne Neagle Labour 6:11, 27 June 2023

Thank you very much, Jenny. I think the comparison with tobacco is a really important one, because we know that, when we've taken bold action on public health, it has made a difference in the space of things like smoking. And we also know that things like the sugar tax has worked. That has taken tens and tens of thousands of tonnes' worth of sugar out of the diets of people living in the UK and has also brought down obesity. So, we know that taking bold public health action can work.

You mentioned ultra-processed foods. I know that there is growing concern about ultra-processed foods, and we know that a lot of the goods that you can now buy on these price promotions are high in fat, sugar and salt, and are ultra-processed, so they are calorifically dense but nutritionally very poor. The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition considered ultra-processed foods in June last year, and now they're carrying out a scoping review of the evidence on ultra-processed foods and health, with a view to publishing a position paper this summer on that. So, what we will do, as we always do, is we will listen to the latest scientific consensus of established evidence, to inform our consideration of ultra-processed foods, and we'll consider the findings of the review once those are available. We know too that some companies are reformulating, but there's not a level playing field, and we want more companies to reformulate, to make their foods healthier. Yesterday, I visited Food Innovation Wales—we've got three of their centres in Wales—and they're working with companies to reformulate foods, among other things, to make them healthier. And Welsh Government supports that activity with funding.

You're right to highlight things like the basic skills around cookery. We fund things like Nutrition Skills for Life. Education is clearly absolutely key, and we've got our new curriculum, with the area of learning and experience on health and well-being, and that also has a focus on a healthy, balanced diet. We're also funding three children and families pilots in Wales—one in Merthyr, one in Anglesey, and one in Cardiff—where we're looking at some of those issues around why families are struggling to eat healthily. We've funded those, and we'll be looking at the learning arising from those. I think they're all doing slightly different things, and you would be very welcome to visit the one in Cardiff with me, which I'm going to be doing in the not-too-distant future. Thank you.

Photo of Jayne Bryant Jayne Bryant Labour

Diolch, Llywydd. I'd like to welcome this statement by the Deputy Minister today. This is another important milestone showing the Government's commitment to do what it can to tackle some of the significant health issues that we're facing now, and that will exponentially grow in the future without action. This is a preventative policy in action against some of the frightening figures that the Deputy Minister has said today. 

Over the last few years, ultra-processed foods have infiltrated our diets at an alarming pace. Those foods usually contain added sugars, salt, fat, artificial colours or preservatives, and aren't made of food so much as substances extracted from food, as Jenny Rathbone has said. Many of those foods have been optimised to get the perfect level of sweetness or saltiness to keep consumers eating. 

While not just restricted to meal deals, ultra-processed foods are the basis of meal deals. A look at the tiny print crammed on the back of any packet will show you that, but how many of us do actually look at those packets and understand what is in that? Last year, a study by Action on Salt found that seven in 10 snacks sold as part of lunch time meal deals in UK high-street shops and supermarkets contained dangerously large amounts of salt, sugar and saturated fat. Another piece of research showed that they do not save money; they're just encouraging people to spend more. The 'buy one, get one free' offers are always around high-fat, high-salt, high-sugar stuff, never around healthy options. 

Not all the levers to change are in the Welsh Government's control. We need the UK Government to act urgently on issues such as advertising and on ultra-processed foods. This is too big an issue not to. So, will the Deputy Minister make recommendations to the UK Government and representations that we need to find a better way to communicate the nutritional value of food? We need to think radically about food, how it's produced and how we access it. Change isn't impossible. There is much work going on here already and internationally, but it's all on a small scale. Most of us want to eat healthily, but there's no doubt the industry knows how to prompt and how to promote consumption of their product, and this does go beyond personal responsibility. So, I think this is a step in the right direction in the face of a public health emergency. 

Photo of Lynne Neagle Lynne Neagle Labour 6:17, 27 June 2023

Thank you very much, Jayne, for your welcome for the plans. As you say, this is prevention in action. This is about putting public health above profit. And you're absolutely right that the whole environment we live in is designed to make us eat unhealthy food. I don't think I'd realised before coming into this post just how obesogenic the environment we are living in is, and that's what we're trying to change with the work that we're doing. We want to shift that environment to healthier choices, more affordable choices, and to make the healthy choice the easy choice.

As you've highlighted, some of the levers don't remain with us, and we were really disappointed that the UK Government rowed back on things like the advertising of unhealthy foods. We have communicated that to the UK Government. We always try and work constructively both with the UK Government and other UK Governments on these issues, and that will continue. And it is really disappointing that they have stalled in some of the work that they were doing in this. Obviously, they've gone ahead with the placement limitations, but they have rowed back on the price promotions and on the advertising. But we will certainly continue that dialogue with them. It's far better if these initiatives are taken on a UK basis, and it's easier for businesses to understand. So, I'm very happy to give you that assurance, and thank you very much for your welcome. Diolch.