Examination of Witnesses (Questions 380-399)
18 SEPTEMBER 2003
Q380 Dr Taylor: You have mentioned
that in your evidence, the free exercise books.
Ms Dalmeny: Would you like to
see some examples? Sometimes it is difficult to imagine what this
actually means. A lot of parents will write in and say, "While
we talk in the home about some of these things being not so appropriate,
these are exercise books that are given out in schools, they have
branding for highly sugary, fizzy drinks." Here is an example
of such a fizzy drink. This shows Robbie Williams, who is one
of the most popular pop stars for young children, promoting Pepsi.
This is a standard size bottle of Pepsi. That has 10/11 teaspoons
of sugar in itwhich is something like 150/180 calories.
The kinds of changes in weight in children and in the general
population can be attributed to an energy imbalance of round about
100/150 calories a day. If that is what is in a single drink like
that, and that is maybe in the vending machine in schools, it
is being promoted through sponsored exercise books . . . Some
of the breakfast clubs have sponsored foods that are given out,
because the school needs to find funding for the breakfast club,
so particular manufacturers will sponsor them. I have seen Burger
King sponsoring some of the breakfast clubs. While it might not
mean that there will Burger King foods being supplied necessarily
to the schools, the fact that branded goodswhich may be
high in fat, high in sugar, high in caloriesare associated
with those healthy eating schemes and associated with the endorsement
of the school is problematic, I think, because it gives the message
to children that these are good options to choose, that they are
a regular part of their lives. And I have seen marketing materials
that explicitly say that these products have the implicit endorsement
of the school staffand of course the children put the trust
in the school staff in that respect.
Q381 Dr Taylor: You also mention
free gifts, including fatty and sugary snack products.
Ms Dalmeny: There is a company
called Jazzy Media who runs the scheme with the sponsored exercise
books. They also run a scheme called Jazzy Lunchbox, which is
giving out free samples to kids in schools as young as four years
old. The marketing materials for that again say that that will
come with the implicit endorsement of the canteen staff. As a
marketing company if you wanted to go into a school and work with
children as a focus group, you would have to spend thousands and
get parental consent. However, if you go into the school and the
school gives consent, then of course you have children in the
captive state of being in the canteen, you have children being
in an open mode to learn, with people that they trust (in terms
of the canteen staff and the teachers), being handed products
to discuss, so that it becomes a cultural thing between them about
what is good and what is not. Frequently the products have cartoon
characters on which are the kind of things they are attracted
to. The companies are very good at choosing characters that are
popular; for instance, I have seen league tables of the cartoon
characters that are most likely to make children ask for them.
All these things are quite sophisticated means of getting to children
and asking them to try products. As we know from things like the
Grab 5 project, the way to get children to like foods is to get
them to try them and to repeat that trial, even if they do not
like it the first timeto keep on coming back to it. That
is obviously undermining the good work that is being done with
fruit and vegetable consumption, and the school ostensibly is
doing it for fund-raising purposes.
Q382 Dr Taylor: You cannot blame
the schools for doing it for that reason, for fund raising. That
is the problem.
Ms Dalmeny: That is partly why
some kind of national look at what is going on would be very helpful.
We are going to write to the National Audit Office to request
that something like that is done. In the StatesI think
in 2001the General Accounting Office has done a major report
on all the different promotional activities in schools, looking
at the full range, and that has been extremely helpful in school
districts beginning to see what the national picture is and what
sorts of things are problematic,
Q383 Dr Taylor: Could we go on to
the Five-a-Day/Grab 5 initiatives. How successful are these being?
Are they being taken up widely? I know some of the schools in
my patch are certainly doing them. Have you any idea of the effect?
Ms Longfield: Again, no central
monitoring of the schemes. The Grab 5 project is only Sustain's
project. There are other initiatives going on with other organisations
and also the Government's own initiative. We had our initiative
independently assessed and evaluated to show that it did actually
increase children's fruit and vegetable consumptionwhich
it didwhich was a great reliefnot to have to do
all that activity only to find it did not work, when it did. And
people are very keen and enthusiastic but, as you have pointed
out, schools are hard-pressed, underfunded, have lots of things
that they have to do statutorily, and so an extra thing to do
is just one more burden. We found it helped enormouslyas
we did with our projecthaving somebody local who could
help: who could chase up the suppliers, arrange the visits, help
buy the produce, organise the school marketsall that kind
of stuff. If you are asking teachers to do it on top of what they
already do, that is very difficult. So we are talking about extra
help, which means extra money again. We are absolutely certain
that it does helpbecause, as I say, we have had it independently
evaluated and it does increase children's consumption of fruit
and vegetablesbut it is going to cost for all schools to
do it. I do not think we can expect them to do it without that
extra help and on top of everything else they have to do. It would
be hugely helpful, however, even if it is going to take a long
while for extra money to come through, if Ofsted could be persuaded
to have food as one of the criteria that they check for, having
a whole-school policy, having mechanisms to implement the whole-school
policy that covers the kinds of things that Kath was talking aboutso
not just school meals but all the school food that is provided
at any setting, what is in the curriculum, how many pupils take
it. If it is in the Ofsted inspection criteria, then that is a
huge incentive for schools to do it, but they are still going
to need help.
Q384 Dr Taylor: That is another very
powerful recommendation that we could make and it seems absolutely
Ms Longfield: Yes.
Q385 Dr Taylor: Turning to tuck shops
and vending machines. One of the schools I went to on the visit
was a special needs school. They have a school council of not
selected kids in the special needs, and amazingly they had decided
the tuck shop would only sell healthy foods. It was absolutely
amazing. Should vending machines be banned? Should tuck-shop sales
Ms Dalmeny: I believe the Food
Standards Agency is doing some research at the moment with the
Health Education Trust into finding out how vending machines could
operate if they had healthier products in them. As you are implying,
most vending machines will have the sugary, fatty, salty kind
of products. That kind of research is looking into refrigeration,
supply-chain kind of issues. I think that will be a very interesting
piece of research to look at to show what best practice could
be. It is not saying that vending machines have no place in schools.
Q386 Dr Taylor: Would it be theoretically
possible to have fruit in vending machines?
Ms Dalmeny: It is theoretically
possible. There have been several initiatives in Scotland like
that. But also, as you say, having school councils look at making
tuck shops more healthy and that kind of thing.
Q387 Dr Taylor: Is there any evidence
that when kids have got into the Five-a-Day thing at school it
spills over into their habits at home?
Ms Longfield: There seem to be
indicationsnot powerfully strongly, but certainly there
are indicationsthat if you do, as I say, involve children
in decisions, involve parents, involve teachers, involve school
meals' staff and members of the community, if you do all of that,
then, yes, they go home and say to their parents or carers, "Can
I have this at home, please." They seem to be indicating
that they actually eat fewer fatty snacks as well as eating more
fruit and vegetablesso you get a double benefit. Everybody
assumes, I think, that if you involve children in decisions about
their own food choices, they are going to say, "I want chips
and burgers"and they do say that sometimesbut
if it is done well and carefully and it is made good fun and it
has educational benefits and all that kind of thing, it can be
done in a way which surprises people, which has children literally
clamouring for more and different types of fruit and veg.
Dr Taylor: Thank you.
Q388 Mr Burns: I am going to move
on to physical activity. Mr Osborne, how does the proportion of
children travelling to school by bicycle in this country compare
with other countries of a similar socio-economic grouping?
Mr Osborne: We are bottom of the
pile, essentially. Less than one per cent of school journeys are
made on bicycles in this country. That compares to about 15 to
20 per cent in Germany and 50 per cent of children cycle to school
in Denmark. I think the figures are actually worse in the USA,
where they hardly record bicycles at all in schools.
Q389 Mr Burns: Why do you think our
record is so poor compared to those countries which you have mentioned
have an infinitely better record? Or, putting it the other way
round, why do you think those countries are better than us?
Mr Osborne: I have just come back
from Denmark from a field trip visit two weeks ago. I think it
is quite telling, just looking at the essential differences. In
somewhere like Odensa, which is Denmark's third largest cityit
is 200,000 people, so it is a big city and it has a good mix of
industrial development and retail development, just like oursthey
have had a long-term programme over 20 years to invest in safe
cycle routes alongside footways. I think the big difference, though,
is the extent to which traffic is forced to give way to vulnerable
road users at junctions and also the degree to which you are regarded
as a proper traveller as a cyclist: you have priority at traffic
signals, with green lights in advance of cars to get you through
safely. In the city centre now they provide secure cycle storage
throughout the city, with points where you can put air in your
tyres if you need to. The station has secure cycle parking, with
showers/toilets that can be used by people cycling to the station.
I think the investment is a key factor and the important thing
is that this has happened over a long period of time
Q390 Mr Burns: Presumably it is not
something that can be achieved overnight, by somebody saying,
"It would be a good idea to get more people to cycle to school."
Mr Osborne: No, although I think
something radical like reducing speeds in all urban areas to 20
miles per hour or changing the legislation in terms of rules of
the road, so that at minor junctions you as a driver do have to
give way to a pedestrian or cyclist, could make an enormous difference
and make a difference literally overnight.
Q391 Mr Burns: It may for a variety
of reasons, not simply for the health of the population, be good
to reduce speed limits in built-up areas but there is little point
in doing that if you do not have proper enforcement.
Mr Osborne: That is true, although
I think it has been mooted that you could look at the insurance
liabilities placed on a driver. I think in this countryand
this is where we do differ enormously from the Continentif
there was an accident involving a car and a pedestrian, the fault
is laid at the door of the pedestrian: who has to prove otherwise.
That situation is reversed on the Continent, where the driver
has to prove that they were not guilty in the event of that accident.
That of course puts a lot more onus on the driver to defer to
cyclists and pedestrians at junctions and improves the perception
of safety enormously.
Q392 Mr Burns: Can you share with
us your organisation's views on the merits of increasing the proportion
of people walking to school?
Mr Osborne: Walking is the main
means of transport in this country to school: currently half of
all journeys are on foot. I think they are the most sustainable
journeys, in that they require no equipment beyond shoes and clothes
to wrap you up against the weather. I think that is the area where
we should certainly be putting a lot of effort. I think it is
worth wrapping up walking and cycling together because cycling
does increase the distance you can travel, and of course for a
lot of cycling journeys they are a combined mode.
Q393 Mr Burns: How are you going
to persuade the mothers of children that it would be a sensible
idea to walk?
Mr Osborne: I think the health
benefits are a very important motivator for parents. From the
message that is coming through from the findings of this Committee
and general media coverage about the rise of obesity, I think
it is a big motivator for parents. Importantly, now there is research
that is coming through that shows that the more physically active
you are as a child at school, the greater attainment you are likely
to have in the classroom. Of course that is a big motivator for
a parent too.
Q394 Dr Taylor: On walking to school,
I think you said about 50%. It seems to me, from figures from
my area, that probably more than 50% going to the senior schools
walk but a very much smaller proportion going to the first and
middle schools walk. It is those, the really tiny ones, that we
have to get walking. Have you any experience with walking buses?
Can you tell us anything about this and the practicality of this?
On some of our visits we have heard that walking buses started
and then faded out because they could not keep the volunteers
going to keep them going.
Mr Osborne: The Government, you
may be aware, just brought out this document yesterday,
"Travelling to School: An Action Plan"
which promotes school travel plans. I think that is the important
thing that schemes like walking buses and secure cycle storage
and safe routes are wrapped up within, because that sets out what
the school's intentions are in terms of persuading more people
to travel actively to school. Walking buses do come and go, as
parents come and go in school. I think it is inevitable that some
will fail, but others have gone on to encourage other walking
buses to start at that school. I think that for every piece of
bad news you hear, there is more than one piece of good news,
and it is often the starting point just to get other parents,
who have not even thought about the issue, to take it seriously.
So it is a very good profile raiser to start the process going.
Q395 Chairman: Do you have any figures
as to the number of schools who are actually employing people
to run the walking buses? I came across a school in Yorkshire
where they are paying people from their own budget to do this.
That seems unusual. I have heard of examples where schemes have
failed through lack of volunteers and, obviously, if you can pay
then you have a guaranteed support for that mode of transport.
Is this common?
Mr Osborne: It is not very common
at the moment. I think some schools are considering using teaching
assistants and people like that to help with setting up these
walking buses. The school travel plan coordinators who will be
employed with some of this new money may be able to help too.
Every school is different and I think every local authority has
a different situation too.
Q396 Mr Burns: It is interesting
that in Yorkshire the schools are able to employ people, but certainly
in the Home Counties, like Essex, that is not possible because,
since the Government changed the funding formula to move money
to the Labour heartlands at the last local elections, our financial
settlement has meant that we do not even have enough money to
employ the teachers to teach! One other thing, did you by any
chance hear on the Today programme this morning the story
of the school down in South Devon which has banned pupils from
bringing bicycles on to school premises?which seems rather
a contradictory message for an education establishment to implement.
I suspectand maybe you have more knowledge than Ithat
is a fairly unusual occurrence, is it not? Most schools presumably
are anxious to help encourage their pupils to come into school
by walking or bicycling, as a healthier way to get to school than
by being driven. Or do they frankly not care that much how their
pupils get to school as long as they get to school on time?
Mr Osborne: I think there is a
fair amount of indifference. I think the proportion of primary
schools who have banned cycling to school is higher than you would
think. Again, I do not have figures, but I would say at least
one-third of primary schools do not currently allow cycling to
schoolor do not allow children to bring bicycles on to
the premises, which is essentially their way of saying do not
cycle to school.
Q397 Mr Burns: If we can move to
the London congestion charge, do you have any evidence of what
sort of an impact it has on the number of school car journeys
within the area that it covers?
Mr Osborne: I do not have that
information, no. I understand there has been an increase in cycling
journeys and I would anticipate that that has impacted on school
journeys too, although I do not have the figures.
Q398 Chairman: Could I come on to
Mr Almond and possibly one or two of your colleagues. One of the
areas I wanted to explore with yourself and some of the other
witnesses was the level of fitness of school children. I certainly
have had anecdotal evidence from my own constituency of head teachers'
very strong belief that the level of fitness of young people in
secondary schools is much less than it was even a decade or two
decades ago. One head teacher spoke to me about taking a field
trip with some secondary school pupils and climbing up a waterfall
in Yorkshire. His pupils were out of breath, but he, who is 55,
was okay. He was apparently fitter than the average pupil. What
are your views on how we measure levels of fitness? One of the
issues that we have been talking about has been the whole question
of screening. I have remarked on several occasions that I recall,
when I was at primary school, annual health checks: teeth, hair,
eyes, etcetera. We wondered as a Committee whether there is merit
in looking at this in respect of obesity.
Mr Almond: You are asking the
wrong person, because I do not find there is any evidence to suggest
that fitness levels of children have changed over the last 50
years, mainly because of the way we assess fitness. A large proportion
of that assessment is genetically based. In effect, a better measure
would be how active they are. That is a far better measure, I
think. What we can definitely point to, quite clearly, from lots
and lots of surveys, is that activity levels have decreased substantially,
to the point whereby they will have no impact at all on the levels
of fitness. The argument at the present moment could be that perhaps
we have not made any attempt to increase the fitness levels, and
that may be one of the reasons why we have not seen a slight increase.
I would have to conjoin on that and take an opposite point of
view and say that perhaps if we promoted higher intensity activity
and it was prolonged by all schools in the country then we may
very well see an increase that we have not seen before. Some of
the research at the moment may be reflecting what we have not
done. However, the strong point I would like to make is that it
is extremely clear that activity levels are substantially reduced
and are continuing to reduce, and we have to do something about
Q399 Chairman: In terms of the school
setting, would you like to say what you feel are the key reasons
for that and what role schools should have in addressing this
Mr Almond: The first one is that
we have seen a reduction of walking by about 10%. That is only
a small amount. There are two big factors where there has been
a major reduction in playing. During the time when the school
is not in forceso in play times and lunch timesthere
has been a substantial decrease in activity levels; in fact some
schools have even put seats in so that children can sit down for
the whole of the lunch break.