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convinced that there is a direct link between diet and antisocial behaviour,
Philip Davies: I am following the hon. Ladys argument with interest. The problem with the Bill is that Brian Young of Exeter university did a study of the effects of food advertising on childrens food choices, and found that their food acceptance patterns and eating preferences developed in infancy, before they came under any influence of advertising. Whether her point is right or wrong, advertising food products makes no difference to the tastes that the children have developed.
A considerable amount of research has been carried out. A new survey, partly funded by the Wellcome Trust, was launched in May 2008, and will consider approximately 1,000 young male offenders aged between 16 and 21. The charity, Natural Justice, is also involved. The survey will examine the amount of violence, drug-related offences and self-harm that individuals perpetuate during the 12 months they take supplements.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Nigel Griffiths) on promoting the Bill. If we can tackle the food choices that children make at a young agethat is affected by not only direct advertising, but inclusion of toys in cereal packets, the use of cartoon characters and so onit will improve childrens behaviour in school and make a significant impact on youth reoffending and antisocial behaviour. We have discussed childrens food Bills in the past; I hope that we can put this one on the statute book.
Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Nigel Griffiths) on his good fortune in being able to promote a private Members Bill, and I acknowledge that his concern is genuine and important.
There is no disagreement in the House about the dangers of childhood obesity and the need to take measures to tackle it. It is a serious problem. One only has to look around to see the number of obese children and adults in the countryindeed, one can possibly see the latter even in the House of Commons. The only consolation I can offer is that, in some places, the position is even worse.
During the Easter recess, I took my two children to Disney World for a week, and its patrons make us look like a nation of size zeroes. If one goes into any restaurant in Disney Worldand possibly throughout Americathere is no healthy option. I would be worried if that position were replicated here. We relied on burgers and fries or pizzas and fries for survival for an entire week because it is impossible to find anything else to eat in Disney World. One person said that they had managed to find a
fruit portion on sale, but when they took it to the sales counter, they were asked whether they wanted it with fries.
Things can be done to remedy the problem. However, in my view there is no such thing as unhealthy food. Specific types of food are unhealthy if one eats too much of them. Eating a McDonalds will not shorten ones life, whereas, as the film, Super Size Me demonstrated, a diet of nothing but McDonalds probably will. That is a question of education and, to some extent, common sense.
Attention has been paid to efforts to inform consumers about what is healthy, and considerable progress has been made. The hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Jim Dowd) mentioned guideline daily amountsGDAs. I do not share his concern about whether they are an effective means of educating consumers or cause confusion; I believe that they are useful. They indicate clearly percentages that are regarded as healthy. It does not take much common sense to work out whether a product contains too high an amount of a substance. However, there are two competing systems and doubtless, in time, consumers will make it clear which one they find easier.
The food industry has also worked hard. It is easy to demonise food manufacturers as wanting to pump out quantities of unhealthy food and force feed our children with it. It is worth paying tribute to food manufacturers for what has been achieved in the past few years. In 2005, the Food and Drink Federation surveyed its leading members and found that 36 per cent. of products, worth approximately £7.4 billion, contained lower amounts of salt than they did in 2004. To give just two companies as examples, between 2005 and 2007, Nestlé reduced the volume of salt in its food manufacture by 13.6 per cent., the volume of sugar by 12.3 per cent. and the volume of fat by 15.6 per cent. Mars, which has achieved a great deal, reviewed its snack portfolio in 2002 and set out to reduce trans fatty acids in products that had a content of above 1 per cent. That has resulted in an average reduction in trans fatty acids of 72 per cent. Now more than 99 per cent. of Marss snack food sales contain less than 0.5 per cent. That represents a reduction in the use of trans fatty acids of more than 3,500 tonnes across its snack food portfolio.
Jim Dowd: We should make it plain that the Food and Drink Federation is not an impartial academic centre, but the mouthpiece of the very companies that the hon. Gentleman mentions, such as Mars, Nestlé and Kelloggs. He says that people will come to a conclusion on whether GDAs or traffic lights are easier to understand, but how does he respond to the work of the Consumers Association and the Food Standards Agency? They have done tests on both systems and found that the recognition level for traffic lights is more than 90 per cent., whereas the recognition level for the information garnered from GDAs is below 10 per cent.
All I would say to the hon. Gentleman is that I have some reservations about traffic lights. They are too simplistic and tend to suggest that anything with a blot of red on the packet will automatically be bad for people, whereas consumers need to know that it
might represent, for instance, only 75 per cent. of their recommended daily intake of salt. If they decided that they still wanted to purchase the product, it would not damage them, as long as they recognised that they probably should not eat another packet within the next 24 hours. One has to give some credit to the intelligence of consumers and their ability to reach judgments when they are given the information.
The other point that I would make to the hon. Gentleman is this. It is very easy to say that any trade body representing an industry is completely unreliable and that one should not believe anything that it says in defence of its members. However, I take it that he is not disagreeing that the food manufacturers have made huge progress in reducing in their products the content of the more damaging substances, such as salt, sugar and trans fatty acids in particular. Just because the FDF has pointed out that that has been achieved does not mean that we should not commend the food manufacturers for doing it.
As well as giving consumers the information that allows them to make a judgment, we could also give the public more opportunities to work off the calories that they have taken in, through sporting activities. There is a danger that people will tend to focus on criticising the advertisers and food manufacturers because they do not want to face up to what would be a much more effective strategy, namely putting more money into sport and encouraging children to go out and take physical activity. The Government are vulnerable on that issue, because the amount of money available for sport across the country will be reduced, owing to the black hole of the Olympic games, which is sucking lottery money in. That has resulted in less money being available for Sport England to spend on sporting facilities outside London.
One should pay especial tribute to the private sector on the money that it puts into sport. Without that money, sporting clubs up and down the country would be considerably poorer. I should like to pick out two companies in particular. The first is McDonalds, whose record of supporting amateur football up and down the country is second to none. Every year, McDonalds sponsors junior football coaches who do a tremendous amount in voluntary sports and football clubs, training young people and encouraging them to take up the game. Presumably the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South would wish to prevent that under the terms of his Bill.
The other food manufacturer to which I should like to pay tribute is Kelloggs, which for 10 years has sponsored the Amateur Swimming Association, putting millions of pounds into swimming, to encourage young people to take part, get in pools, learn to swim, enjoy swimming and make it part of their exercise regime. The danger is that the measures that the hon. Gentleman is proposing would prevent companies that invest in sport from continuing to do so. That would be damaging, which is precisely the opposite effect to that which he seeks to achieve.
The Government have already implemented measures to restrict the advertising of so-called unhealthy foods to children. I was fairly sceptical about whether the measures that have been put in place would have any effect at all. The first question that we have to address is: how do we define unhealthy food? The FSAs model,
which is based on nutrient profiling, has been subject to considerable criticism. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) has already referred to one or two perverse outcomes of nutrient profiling. Because it focuses on measuring the salt, sugar and fat content in a 100 g portion, it has deemed Marmite to be extremely unhealthy, despite the fact that the idea of anybody eating 100 g of Marmite is utterly perverse.
Mr. Whittingdale: I may have to make an exception for my hon. Friend, who is clearly a Marmite addict, but most people would not consume that amount. There is some dispute about whether it is helpful to brand cheese and other dairy products, which provide a considerable amount of the daily requirement of calcium, as unhealthy just because they do not fit the model adopted by the FSA. That has created some problems.
Philip Davies: My hon. Friend is making a typically powerful case. Other products covered by the restrictions include some cereals. Does he agree that it is rather perverse to restrict the advertising of certain cereals, when one of the biggest problems in childrens diets is not eating at breakfast time?
Mr. Whittingdale: My hon. Friend is entirely right. My children grew up eating cerealsI imagine that most parents in this country had the same experienceand I agree that that restriction is a perverse result. There are a number of reasons why the blunt instrument of simply banning a particular kind of advertising not only will not achieve the effects that the Government are seeking, but might have perverse effects of precisely the kind that my hon. Friend identifies.
When the Government decided to go down that road, they asked Ofcom to conduct a thorough analysis and undertake a wide consultation, both to determine how effective advertising restrictions would be and to calculate the consequences of those restrictions on the broadcasting industry. That exercise was conducted over two years and produced voluminous reports. As a result, Ofcom concluded that food advertising had
a modest, direct effect
on childrens food choices.
Nevertheless, Ofcom still decided that there was a case for introducing a ban on advertising HFSS foods in programmes that are watched by children or made specifically for them. Ofcom went as far as children aged 15, which I was concerned about, since that would affect, for instance, music channels such as MTV, as well as programming specifically for children.
That was the decision that Ofcom reached, although it recognised that it would come with a cost attached. The cost was removal of some £20 million in revenue from the commercial broadcasters that they would otherwise have received in advertising around UK childrens programming. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, South was right to say that the problems facing UK childrens programming predate the advertising ban. Investment in UK childrens programming has been in decline for some six or seven years. Indeed, between 2001 and 2006
it fell by 56 per cent., from £62 million to £27 million. However, we can see from those figures that if another £20 million is removed by the ban already in place, a huge hole is left. The consequence is that investment in UK childrens programming in the commercial sector is now essentially dead. The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) is right to say that excellent childrens programming is available on the BBC. CBeebies, CBBC and the main terrestrial channels offer childrens programming of a very high quality.
It is not desirable or healthy, however, to have only one broadcaster supplying a sector of public service programming as important as childrens programming. It is not desirable that all other programming on the commercial channels directed at children should be American or Japanese imports. That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr. Vaizey) is right, and it is why the Select Committee concluded that there was a case for intervention, using public money, to support the provision of childrens programming in the commercial sector.
Mr. Don Foster (Bath) (LD): The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, but so far he has not told us of his estimate of the Bills impact on advertising. Can he confirm that the Ofcom estimate is not £20 million, but £250 million, which is the equivalent of all of the money spent on childrens programming and on news programming?
Mr. Whittingdale: The hon. Gentleman demonstrates his usual foresight by anticipating the exact point that I was about to make. Ofcom decided that the specific restrictions that are now in place, and the money that would be lost as a result, were a price worth paying. The restrictions were therefore put in place last year. At the same time, as the hon. Gentleman rightly points out, Ofcom considered the proposal in the Bill for a complete pre-9 oclock watershed ban. It said that it had
considered the option of excluding all HFSS advertising before the 9pm watershed.
It recognised that that would remove 82 per cent. of recorded HFSS advertising impacts on all children, which would achieve one of the key regulatory objectives, that of significantly reducing the impact of HFSS advertising on younger children. Based on data provided by the FSA, Ofcom recognised that that would have social health benefits of perhaps £50 million to £200 million a year. However, Ofcom also concluded that
this option would also undermine two other regulatory objectives. Most importantly, it would impose a disproportionate impact upon broadcasters, given that television advertising only has a modest impact upon food preferences. We estimate that the exclusion of HFSS advertising up to 9pm would cost broadcasters somewhere between £130 million-£240 million in lost advertising...Secondly, rather than being a targeted measure on younger children, its effect would be to restrict the viewing of audiences other than younger children.
concluded that a ban on HFSS advertising before 9pm would not meet Ofcoms regulatory objectives, and that it is therefore not appropriate to consult on this option.
The hon. Gentleman makes a strong case, and I am touched by his concern for my former employers and for the media owners. Is he aware that another foresight report puts the cost to our society of
obesity-related diseases at some £49 billion a year? In being concerned about advertisers, we are not perhaps getting our priorities right.
Mr. Whittingdale: If I thought that bringing in a pre-9 pm ban would remove the problem of obesity and save the nation £49 billion, I would be first in the queue to support the Bill, but I simply do not believe that it would have that effect. It is easy to say that the opposition to the Bill comes from multinational food producers such as McDonalds and Nestlé. I draw the Houses attention to a letter sent to Members on behalf of ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, Sky and Virgin Media Television. It states:
Such a ban would have a major and dramatic impact on our companies ability to fund programming and invest in original UK productionwithout achieving significant health benefits. There is no...evidence that advertising restrictions can have a major impact on obesity, and academic research has concluded that advertising has modest direct effects of maybe 2 per cent.
Kerry McCarthy: What is the hon. Gentlemans opinion on the advertising of alcohol and cigarette products? It is generally accepted that such advertising should be restricted, presumably because otherwise young people would be encouraged to smoke and drink more alcohol. What is the difference between those products and food products?
Mr. Whittingdale: There are differences, but the hon. Lady raises an interesting point. It is worth considering whether it is right in a free society to say that certain products are legal and people have the right to choose to consume them if they wish to do so, but to ban completely any advertising of them.
Mr. Vaizey: Is my hon. Friend aware that there is no evidence that a total ban on advertising alcohol has any effect on alcohol consumption? It is slightly odd for Labour Members to be pious about alcohol advertising when they introduced 24-hour drinking and a binge-drinking culture in this country.
Whether one chooses to smoke is a matter of freedom of choice, and I certainly do not favour banning cigarettes. Indeed, I opposed the smoking ban, but I accept that the evidence is overwhelming that smoking even one cigarette is bad for people and they risk damaging health consequences. That is not the case for eating a McDonalds. If people eat one McDonalds, it will not shorten their life. It is a question of proportion and the extent to which people overeat McDonalds or live on nothing but McDonalds. Therefore, there is a big difference between so-called unhealthy foods and products such as cigarettes, where even one is probably bad for ones health.
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