Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): One of the attractions of clause 4 is that it makes the important link between the practicalities of providing healthy school meals and the delivery of food education in the classroom. Does the hon. Lady agree that with hindsight we can see that making food technology and food education voluntary subjects in primary schools means that, with all the other pressures on teachers, they are inevitably sidelined? Her Bill gives them the pre-eminence that they deserve.
Mary Creagh: I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising an interesting question about the place of food in the curriculum. I know that there are many pressures on the curriculum and that children learning to read, write and add up is the pre-eminent reason for sending them to school. Teaching about food is not compulsory; many schools are doing that type of work, but it is often not well structured or valued. We have to provide a framework within the national curriculum so that schools can see that such provision is in their interestthe healthy schools initiative could provide a wrapper for such provision. In that way, rather than regard it as yet another Government initiative, schools would feel that they were contributing to the national curriculum. I look forward to working on that with Education Ministers as the schools White Paper progresses.
Anne Snelgrove (South Swindon) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend envisage a role for the youth service? Statutory education provision is not the only thing that could help. In addition, the Government's extended schools scheme could provide time after and before school to promote healthy eating, to teach young people about food and to give them the opportunity to cook healthy food themselves.
Mary Creagh: I agree. Non-formal education has a vital role to play. Many children learn through non-formal channels, such as guides, scouts and other youth organisations, which provide invaluable help in teaching children about the process of becoming adults.
When one visits a school and sees something that the children have made together, one sees their sense of shared pride in their achievement. When my three-year-old son came home from nursery with a biscuit the other day, it was as if the holy grail had arrived in our living room. Of course, he did not wait until I got home to eat it, so I was unable to worship it. Being able to cook a biscuit is a great achievement for a three-year-old.
Schools exist to develop children's minds and to introduce them to the wonders of the world around them, but we must not forget their bodies, as their minds will not focus or concentrate without decent food. The
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Government have already ensured that all schools, wherever they are and whatever their intake, will provide healthy, nutritious meals for children. With the support of the House, my Bill will be able to protect children from junk food advertising and teach them cooking skills to last them a lifetime.
Promoting this Bill in the House has been an education to me as a parent and as a politician. I truly believe that we are approaching a tipping point for junk food advertising. I hope that this Parliament will be remembered for improving the eating habits of a generation and for stemming the increase in childhood obesity. Our children deserve nothing less. I thank colleagues on both sides of the House for their kind support and commend the Bill to the House.
Annette Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD): I congratulate the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) not only on obtaining a high position in the ballot, but on her excellent presentation of her Bill and her robust rejection of some of the interventions.
I am delighted to speak in support of the Bill. Some of the proposals might appear rather illiberalsuch as banning the supply of certain foods in vending machines and banning the advertising of junk food to childrenbut I believe that there is no choice but that the Government make significant interventions to tackle poor nutrition. For too long we have allowed food marketing companies to influence our family diets and the television media to develop further our already sedentary lifestyle. We must now empower our citizens to lead a healthy lifestyle. Action now is imperative and an obvious starting point is children.
The problem facing children and their parents and carers is enormous. We have heard a lot of statistics on obesity: studies suggest that more than 1 million children in the UK are obesean enormous number. Obesity is linked to a wide range of serious illnesses, so we are storing up a huge national health service bill for the future.
Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): The hon. Lady makes a good point. Both she and the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) correctly identified the serious problem of childhood obesity. We are perhaps ignoring the important factor that the calorie intake of both children and adults over a number of decades has remained relatively flat, if not fallen. The big problem is that children today, and adults, are taking decreasing amounts of exercise. To solve the problem of obesity, we would do better to focus on exercise rather than only on food.
I shall continue, because I wish there to be a satisfactory conclusion to our proceedings on the Bill today. I shall do my utmost to be as brief and concise as possible.
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I concede the point about exercise. That is why it is important to have a whole-curriculum approach within the healthy lifestyle. The British Dental Health Foundation has drawn our attention to the dental decay that is experienced by half of five to 10-year-olds.
It is certainly time for the Government to be involved in addressing the issues, and we need the steps that are proposed today to turn round the current trend. There is almost an obsession with health and fitness in national newspaper columns and reality television programming, but we need political leadership and action. Responsibility for the healthy diet of children, both in and out of school, has to lie with parents and children themselves, but a significant dose of support from schools and Government is an important starting point.
Even before "Jamie's School Dinners" hit our screens in March and mobilised more than 270,000 citizens to lobby the Government to increase spending on quality ingredients, research had shown that a nutritious diet free from artificial additives and processed food can significantly improve behaviour and concentration in school children.
I shall refer briefly to a study that was carried out in a school that I know that is in a relatively deprived area. Two thirds of its pupils were asked about food intake during the day. Their answers were alarming. Virtually all the children were eating and drinking highly processed food that is high in sugar and fatif they ate and drank anything at all. Most students admitted drinking relatively little during the day, often only fizzy drinks, which puts them at risk of spending much of the day significantly dehydrated.
"What is the point of spending a fortune on key stage 3 secondary strategies when so many kids are just not capable of learning as their brains are not functioning? It is like trying to fine tune the engine of a car that has got the wrong fuel in it."
Many Members have mentioned the healthy options, which I am pleased are in our schools. However, the study underlines the fact that we know that some young people will still get junk food. We need all the proposals in the Bill to come together and a holistic approach.
I welcome the announcements that have already been made by the Secretary of State for Education and Skills on provisions in the Bill. It makes a great deal of sense to take the junk food out of school vending machines and to ensure that we give clear and consistent messages about what is actually happening and what is said in the classroom. We have to take responsibility for the mental and physical development of our children. Let us ponder on "You are what you eat". If we keep that at the back of our minds, we will be able to get totally on message.
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Supermarket chains could do more to promote healthy food. I would like the traffic lights system to be used to help identify nutritious food and to educate us about healthy choices.
To concentrate briefly on specific proposals in the Bill, I support the proposed new duty on the Department of Health to promote healthy eating for children. I would like to see the Government extending the school fruit and vegetable scheme to older children. That would go well along with other parts of the package.
The moves to tackle school meals and ensure that there are minimum nutritional standards are long overdue. Many schools operate good schemes, but I wonder why we had to wait for Jamie to show us the way. In Dorset, not a single primary school has an on-site kitchen, so I am worried that there will not be enough money to meet the Government's aspirations on school meals. However, the principles of the measure are right, and I am happy to support them.
We certainly need to do something about advertising. For every £1 spent promoting healthy eating, £500 is spent marketing unhealthy food, so the market has clearly failed. Advertising promotions determine our children's food choices and propel them down a single route. The producer is king. I agree that if we limit the advertising of unhealthy food for children, many parents will be under less pressure to give in to their requests for fast food. The Government have obviously accepted the principle that advertising should be limited, as they are talking to respected members of the industry, but they must be prepared to act if change has not taken place by early 2007. However, we cannot afford to wait that long, and we should take action today by supporting the Bill.
We should put the clock back and offer practical cookery lessons in schools. It is also desirable that food should be grown on school grounds. Finally, I agree with the Food Standards Agency that we need to assess the impact of food on children's health and well-being.