Obesity: Covid-19 — [Philip Davies in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:17 am on 10th November 2020.

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Photo of Jo Gideon Jo Gideon Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent Central 10:17 am, 10th November 2020

I thank the hon. Lady and absolutely agree. There are other factors as well, including income, housing, access to green space and exposure to junk food advertising.

On the extra factors, I discussed the issues around exercise with Stephanie Moran, the executive principal of the Esprit Multi Academy Trust, and visited the Grove Academy in Hanley to see first hand the challenges of organising outdoor exercise in a covid-safe way. This Victorian-built junior school, which was built for 100 people in a busy, dense residential area, has no green space and an inadequate playground area for what are now up to 480 pupils to exercise daily. We must include the right to exercise as a vital element of tackling obesity as well as looking at nutrition, and ensure that schools such as Grove Academy have access to green space.

Recently, I spoke to consultants at the Royal Stoke University Hospital, who shared their concerns about the increasing number of children with type 2 diabetes whom they had to refer as a consequence of poor diets and unhealthy lifestyles.

The Government started to address the challenge of poor diet in 2018 with the soft drinks industry levy, which has led to a significant reduction in the sugar content of drinks. This July, I wholeheartedly welcomed the Government’s Better Health campaign, which looked to address some of the issues through measures such as a ban on the TV and online advertising of fatty foods before 9 pm, and an end to all “buy one get one free” deals on unhealthy foods.

However, successive Governments have adopted different approaches to tackling obesity and, until now, they have neglected to address the structural inequalities that are so strongly linked to levels of obesity. The national food strategy and the Government’s obesity strategy are intended to be long-term approaches with comprehensive and holistic solutions.

I was delighted with the announcement from the Department for Work and Pensions earlier this week. It confirmed that, as of April next year, the Government will increase the amount of financial support made available to pregnant women or those with children under the age of four, to help them buy fruit and vegetables. The recommendation is to increase the rate of the Healthy Start payments from £3.10 to £4.25—just one of the core recommendations in part 1 of the national food strategy. It is a decisive step in the right direction, and I look forward to working with the Government, through my chairmanship of the all-party parliamentary group on the national food strategy, to see future recommendations implemented as part of their strategy for tackling obesity and malnutrition in the UK.

I say this to the Minister: although obesity is perceived as a health issue, for the reasons we have discussed today, it very much also goes to the heart of levelling up, so I believe that the solution can only be found in a cross-departmental way.

As we slowly but surely emerge from this pandemic, it is important we do everything in our power to capitalise on the momentum and shifting public perception within our attitudes towards tackling adult and childhood obesity. By addressing the structural, economic and social inequalities that exist in parts of the UK and by implementing the long-term and holistic solutions that will emerge from a national food strategy, we will be in the unique position to turn the tide on obesity once and for all, and ensure that everyone has access to healthy food and opportunities to exercise in every community across our country.