Junk Food Advertising and Childhood Obesity — [Nadine Dorries in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:53 am on 16th January 2018.

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Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous Conservative, South West Bedfordshire 9:53 am, 16th January 2018

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 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.