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Mr. Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton, South-East) (Lab): The issues raised by the Bill are extremely important, because food has a significant impact on children's health and well-being. Some people, including hon. Members, argue that politics should stay away from this issue, and that it has become a target of the nanny state. However, that should not be the case. Politicians should care about these issues, because this is not just about diet but about ensuring that children have the best start in life regardless of their background.
More than ever before, we know that the food that children eat has a profound impact on their health and their wider opportunities. If children eat too much of the wrong food they will start school overweight, they will be less able to concentrate on their lessons and will do less well at school, which will have an impact on the opportunities open to them later in life. The Bill is therefore about opportunity and the capacity of every child, whatever their background, to make the most of their life. In my constituency, Wolverhampton City
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primary care trust estimates that 32 per cent. of children starting school aged four or five are overweight, and 14 per cent. are obese. Nationally, the respective figures are 24 per cent. and 11 per cent. Even before children start school, food and diet are vital issues.
Justine Greening (Putney) (Con): I am not a parent, but I am not sure that three and four-year-olds clamour for unhealthy food. We must be careful not to adopt sticking-plaster solutions, as the root cause of the problem is a lack of understanding among parents about a healthy diet. Surely, a junk food advertising ban is only a temporary solution, not a permanent one.
Judy Mallaber: Has my hon. Friend ever observed a three or four-year-old having a tantrum because they were denied something at the supermarket checkout, which was advertised as something they simply must have now?
Among older children among Wolverhampton the pattern is, if anything, worse than among four and five-year-olds. The PCT estimates that 40 per cent. of 11 to 12-year-olds are overweight, of whom 24 per cent. are obese. Seven years ago these figures were half their current levels. The pattern is clear. It is not only bad for the individual children involved, but it is an increasing cost to the country. The Department of Health estimates that the cost of obesity in terms of treatment, absence from work through ill health and premature death may be several billion pounds. Of course no single factor is responsible, but the growth in the number of overweight children must be down in large measure to the diet and the food that they eat.
Some supermarkets are making progress and some are taking positive action to reduce the levels of salt, sugar and fat in the food that we eat, but we need more progress. The issue matters because it affects the life chances of those children, their health and the opportunity that they enjoy.
Meg Hillier: In earlier interventions colleagues emphasised the importance of ingraining good habits. I am sure my hon. Friend would be interested in the example of Daubeny primary school in Homerton in my constituency, in the heart of the inner city, which has just won £1,000 to set up a vegetable garden in the school. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is a great way of teaching children, especially in cities, the origins of food and the habits of good eating?
The Bill is not a magic wand or a silver bullet. Every clause is not necessarily 100 per cent. right, but it puts the subject of children's food at the heart of the health agenda, where it belongsa subject that deserves further debate and consideration in the House.
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Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): In her speech the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) described at length the problem of obesity, so I will not dwell on that. I want to pick up one of the points I made earlier about exercise. As other Members have mentioned their constituencies, I shall speak about mine, the Forest of Dean. The forest itself has been described to me by the Forestry Commission as the largest gym in the land. I encourage all young people and indeed all adults to journey to the forest of Dean and use its delights for exercise, whether walking or cycling.
Over the past few years the amount of physical activity undertaken by young people has been declining. Fewer young people walk to schoolincreasing numbers are driven. The proportion of youngsters playing sport at school has fallen.
Helen Goodman: The hon. Gentleman is right. Children have far fewer opportunities for play than they used to have. I hope he will join the all-party parliamentary group on children's play as soon as it is set up. However, we also need to attend to diet. I hope he will turn to that now.
Mr. Harper: I willthat is a good link. One of the things that interests me is the focus on diet, as opposed to single items of food. Vincent Marks, the emeritus professor of clinical biochemistry at the university of Surrey, has pointed out that there are
individually. It is important to remember that if a child has a can of fizzy drink or eats an individual item of food that may be described as junk, that is not a problem as long as the child has a balanced diet.
Mary Creagh: The hon. Gentleman has said that there is no such thing as bad food and that we must consider balanced diets. What does he say about Mr. Greedy sausages, which contain more salt than seawater and are made of mechanically separated turkey? Are they the sort of thing that he would feed his child, his dog or himself?
Mr. Harper: The hon. Lady has complained about supermarkets and evil multinationals indulging in product placement, but she has given a tremendous amount of advertisingprobably more than the manufacture could have dreamed ofto Mr. Greedy sausages. Mr. Greedy sausages sound like something that I would enjoy eating, and I am sure that my two black Labradors, Cara and Darci, would be keen, too.
Under the Bill, the Food Standards Agency would have a significant amount of influence on the regulation of advertising. My hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Mr. Hoban) has already alluded to a recent FSA analysis, which came up with some interesting results. The analysis, which is perhaps counter-intuitive, states that healthier foods include oven chips, chicken
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tikka masala, spaghetti bolognaise and sliced white bread, and that less healthy foods include cornflakes, bran flakes and polyunsaturated margarine. The FSA has defended its model, stating that the Government's Advisory Committee on Nutrition believes that the model accurately identifies foods that could be subject to future broadcast advertising restrictions. Putting it in control of advertising restriction may not lead to an outcome with which the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) will be comfortable.
Dr. Starkey: I am intrigued. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the FSA is not an appropriate body to rule on nutritional standards? And does he realise that the packet is often a better source of nutrition than cornflakes themselves?
Mr. Harper: I was simply drawing attention to the fact that hon. Members and others outside the House may be surprised when they consider the products that the FSA analysis describes as "healthy". If the FSA were in charge of advertising restrictions, it might not reach conclusions that the hon. Member for Wakefield likes.
When I read the Bill, I was disappointed to find that the word "parent" is mentioned only once. Two out of three meals eaten by children are provided at home by their parents rather than in the school environment.
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