Select Committee on Health Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 780-799)



  Q780 Dr Naysmith: Are you saying that people have a choice, if they want to become obese they can become obese, that is a free choice and you have got no part in that?

  Mr Glenn: I am not a medical scientist and I know that you are. Obesity is a medical condition in part, but the reason that this Committee is sitting is that there is clearly an involuntary obesity going on, people do not want to be obese, people do not want to have the health issues and the problems that come with obesity.

  Q781 Dr Naysmith: Given what you have been saying, if people are going to become obese then we have got to interfere in their freedom of choice if we are going to do anything about it. If they are free to become obese then we will have to interfere in it even though it means interfering in people's freedom of choice.

  Mr Glenn: That is such an important point. I think tackling it is not going to be predicated by restricting freedom of choice because it just will not work. The way this type of issue has been successfully combated over other countries in the world is by encouraging positive lifestyle choices rather than negative. It is about education, not coercion. For example, on Pepsi Cola's board of health advisers there is a Dr Dean Ornish, who is the head of preventative medicine for an institute in California. He believes that they have made tremendous strides in combating heart disease in the US, not by threatening people and saying, "Do not do this. Do not do that or you will get ill", but by encouraging people that they will feel better if they make small changes to their lifestyles.

  Q782 Dr Naysmith: We just have to interfere in that equation.

  Mr Glenn: With respect, we need to educate. We have an obesity problem so let us not argue about that. The problem is that people do not understand the fundamentals to it. Rather than get diverted about proxy measures for spoonfuls of sugar here and grams of that there, it is calories. If people had that simple, straightforward unit of measure in their minds, we would be able to make progress on the whole area.

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: I agree with a lot of what has been said. The concept of positive rather than negative messaging in communicating nutrition is extremely important. I bought a lawn mower the other day and I was advised not to trim hedges with it or to inhale the fumes. It is very important that the message is positive as well as simple and consistent. We cannot escape in a simplistic way the fundamental problem that the country is facing and that is the concept of diet as opposed to individual foods. McDonald's and some of the other representatives here provide an enormous amount of variety. In my view, it would be simplistic to try and talk about particular units.

  Q783 Mr Burstow: Earlier on, you were saying that we need to keep the messages simple and you were telling us that you wanted to engage in a serious debate about this. Surely as part of that debate you as a company would want to encourage people to come into your restaurants and buy your products and you should, in the literature we were shown earlier on, be including information to enable people to make those informed choices about how—

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: We do. There is a difference between simplicity and over-simplicity.

  Q784 Mr Burstow: Therefore, does the literature that you produce already enable a parent to make a judgment about how many Happy Meals typically a five year old should eat?

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: It stresses the importance of a balanced diet and a healthy, active lifestyle and it provides nutritional information about our food and our drink. Of course we want to do a better job. Can we do a better job? We will do our best to do a better job but I think the information that we have provided over the years is certainly more than we are legally obliged to do and we are very happy to do that and we want to build on that.

  Q785 Mr Burstow: Do you think there is any argument for including any information on the packaging in which you serve your food?

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: We provide a lot of information in leaflets, customer services, via the help line and on the website. I think we are slightly different to the other representatives here because if you label the food packaging itself you would only see it after you had bought it. The importance, to my mind, is to convey the nutritional information before the time that you buy.

  Q786 Mr Burstow: You do not think it would be appropriate for you to say how many Happy Meals in a balanced diet for five year olds are appropriate?

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: I would not want to simplify the debate for a person's lifestyle or energy balance.

  Mr Burstow: Perhaps we can finish with chocolate buttons and Cadburys.

  Chairman: Before you do that, these leaflets that Simon has supplied—

  Mr Burns: I collected them when I went to McDonald's.

  Q787 Chairman: Are they available to people who are drive in customers, because I have certainly never seen these. Are they available throughout the country, not just in Essex?

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: There are practical considerations with a drive through. They would be made available to anyone who wanted them. What we do not have is a series of leaflets on the walls, but they are available throughout the country.

  Q788 Chairman: You do not give them out with the meal?

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: They are there, beside the counter, for people to help themselves.

  Q789 Chairman: The drive in customer would not get a leaflet with the meal?

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: No. They would not get a leaflet unless they asked for it.

  Q790 Chairman: They would not ask for it if they were not aware of it, obviously.

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: If they were not aware of it, they probably would not ask for it.

  Q791 Mr Burns: Most of the clients presumably go into the restaurant.

  Mr Cosslett: An average supermarket can carry about 20,000 lines and to try to get mum to understand every one of those in making a balanced diet is a challenge. There is a difference between known quantities and rather less known quantities. The work that we are doing at the moment would identify a strong correlation between the growth of unknown quantities in food and obesity rates. You grow up knowing about confection. Because it is not particularly low calorie and we have never pretended it is, you grow up knowing that it is a treat. Mums know it is a treat for their kids and manage it perfectly well accordingly. I think that is the reason why the confectionery industry is pretty flat because there is this natural control that takes place in the purchase of confectionery products. I would be more concerned where people are buying products that they think are low in fat and they aren't. I bought a low fat yoghurt the other day, thinking it was very healthy and it had more calories in than a large Crunchie. I was amazed and I am in the food industry. It is products that masquerade that people are consciously choosing because they think they are making a contribution and they are not. A mum who buys chocolate buttons for her children knows what she is buying. That is why they are six calories a button. They are portion controlled. In the whole of the confectionery industry, there is probably the widest range of portions you can imagine—from a single button to a kilogram bar. This portion control helps people. Part of the rites of passage of being a child is growing up and having a debate with your mum and dad about how much confection you can have. We know it to be true and we manage it accordingly. When you look at the information we are now starting to draw out about what overweight people are eating, surprising though it may seem, confectionery is not one of them. Because it is a `known quality what they are eating more of are the things which they probably think are okay.

  Q792 Mr Burstow: When you say "overweight people" are we talking about adults or children?

  Mr Cosslett: Both.

  Q793 Mr Burstow: Is there any divergence between the two?

  Mr Cosslett: Virtually none.

  Q794 Mr Burstow: Is that data you would be able to share with us?

  Mr Cosslett: We would be delighted to share it. It is our first go at it. It was robust and it was done by an independent, very renowned agency. It is a very interesting insight because apart from telling you that they do 50% less exercise than the general population it does start to give us some—and I would only say at this stage "clues"—as to what they eat. They tend to have more meals, thinking meals are snacks. It is an insight into information that we could build on and the Committee could take it away and do more with it.

  Q795 Mr Burstow: I take your point about false comfort being given by some of the labelling on some other products that you mention, but you mentioned treats and parents making decisions about how often a treat is available. That itself is a bit difficult and challenging because often one person's idea of the frequency of a treat is entirely different to another's. Can you offer us any thoughts on that, particularly when it comes to bags of chocolate buttons? Is a treat every day? Is a treat once a week?

  Mr Cosslett: I honestly think it cannot be answered because it entirely depends on what else is being consumed and how active the person is. If you have someone who is extremely active, running around a lot and has no other treats, then a bag of buttons would be perfectly acceptable every day. If someone was doing less activity, which unfortunately more and more of our children are, and they were having plenty of other treats then the consumption would need to be moderated. There is not one average child; there are just individual children with parents who are trying to make decisions for them. In a very great number of cases—the statistics will support it—people do make good choices about confectionery and understand that a treat is something that is at the discretion of the parent. Most people do not seem to have a problem with it.

  Q796 Dr Naysmith: You were talking about research that suggested people who were tending towards overweight and obesity did not eat sweets or that it was not due to eating sweets. Is that right?

  Mr Cosslett: No. I said they eat less than the general population.

  Q797 Dr Naysmith: I wonder how that research is done. Is it self-reporting? Do they tell you?

  Mr Cosslett: Yes.

  Q798 Dr Naysmith: We have already talked about the national fruit survey and there are three times more of certain types of sweet produced than people are eating because people tend to feel a bit guilty about it.

  Mr Glenn: It is in our submission. We use the same research to get the same information.

  Q799 Dr Naysmith: How reliable is it?

  Mr Glenn: They are self-completion questionnaires. All this is indicative, not chapter and verse. It is diary panels. People write down over the course of a week what they are consuming, so it is about occasions rather than weight.

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