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Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Lord. There are many other Members of this House who wished to support his amendment, but they did not do so because the Chairman of Committees rose to close the debate. Out of courtesy to him and the procedures of the House, we did not proceed to put our points of view. I, for one, feel that I have been robbed of that opportunity.
Lord Moran: My Lords, I have a very great respect for the noble Baroness the Leader of the House and I paid very careful attention to what she said. I think that this is a matter of great importance and a matter for the House. Although we have been able to debate it today only in a very summary way, I think it is right that we should have an opportunity to express our view. Therefore, I would like to test the opinion of the House.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote had given notice of her intention to move, as an amendment to the Motion standing in the name of the Chairman of Committees, at end to insert "but with the omission of paragraphs 5 to 8; and that the report be remitted back to the Liaison Committee in respect of those paragraphs with an instruction that the committee should reconsider the proposal for a Select Committee on Communications".
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I would like to thank noble Lords who spoke in support of my amendment. I am indeed grateful to them and to the many noble Lords around the House who have said how warmly they support my proposition. However, having listened to what the Chairman of Committees said, I note that he warmly invited us to return to the committee with the same or even a better proposal. I assure him that we will take up his offer at the earliest possible moment, so I will not move the amendment.
The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for having given me notice of his question. I am sure that we can deal with that request sympathetically and find some way of meeting it.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I start with a nostalgic reflection. The more one looks at the pressures on today's children to become adults well before it makes any kind of sense, the more I realise just how much easier was the task of bringing up children for my own generation of parents. In those days of black and white TV, there were limited channels as well as limited viewing hours. But, even then, I can remember huge tussles about viewing favourite TV programmes when homework had not been finished. In those days TV advertising was in its infancy. Today, incidentally, we are told that most children keep the TV on while doing homework. That is something that would have horrified my old English teacher.
So it should be no surprise that today marketing to children is very big business indeed. The UK pre-school market alone is worth no less than £4.3 billion a year. Given that 76 per cent of pre-school children watch two hours or more television each day, and children between the ages of four and 15 watch rather more than that, it is hardly surprising that the food industry, marketeers and advertisers regard children as such a good target audience.
During my time at the Broadcasting Standards Commission, we researched various aspects of children's broadcastingboth its quantity and quality. In those days, only 15 years ago, there was near invisibility of pre-school material. Overall, we found that the quantity was certainly up and the quality down, with far too many cartoons and a paucity of good drama. Since then the number of children's programmes has grown significantlyfrom over 10,000 hours in 1996 to over 32,000 in 2001. That is largely due to the increase in dedicated children's channels such as Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network.
Computers, too, are increasingly seenrightly, we must concedeas a "must have", if children are to cope with today's technological taken-over world. It is more and more possible, with the rollout of broadband, for them to receive "broadcast" material on computersincluding adverts. Finally, three out of four youngsters own a mobile phone on which again it is increasingly possible to receive, among other forms of communication, broadcast material, desirable and otherwise. Only a few days ago, our attention was drawn to the increased availability of child pornography online.
This background, I hope, sets the scene. What about the problems posed by all that in today's universal global market economy? There are a number of reasons why we should be concerned; first and foremost, by the inevitably high pressure all that puts on parents to buy the goods advertised. Parents are already undervalued for the role they play in bringing up tomorrow's citizens. Yet in so many ways the state fails to support them in that vital task. It is hardly surprising that no less than 84 per cent of parents feel that companies marketing their products target children too much; and at an increasingly young age.
In face of that anxiety, what, if anything, happens elsewhere? Do any controls or regulations exist in other countries? Sweden and Greece ban advertising to children under 12. Australia and Ireland and other countries ban advertising during pre-school children's programmes. By contrast, apparently, Britain has the highest rates in Europe of advertising to children.
Some form of guidance does already exist in this country. For example, each advert for TV has to be pre-vetted by the Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre, with any complaints made to the Independent Television Commission. Restrictions cover adverts which might cause harm to childrenphysically,
Ofcom, the new communication industry's regulator, with the ITC's responsibility for TV adverts since the beginning of the year, is currently engaged in public consultation on how TV and radio adverts should in future be regulated. Ofcom's overall policy is for lighter, not stronger, regulation and they hope to co-regulate the advertising aspects of their responsibilities with the ASA. Both bodies will have important powers if they choose to use them.
So is that existing statutory regulation and self-regulation enough? To illustrate the way in which we might respond to that question, I shall give an example. One of the most worrying developments over recent years is the increase in obesity. One can see there all too clearly one possible result of increased marketing. In recent years obesity among six year-olds in this country has doubled to 8.5 per cent and for 15 year olds has trebled to 15 per cent. Girls are the worst affected. A further concern is that with so much time spent on computers and watching TV the young are not taking anything like enough exercise.
It is hard to believe that those figures have nothing to do with the fact that the global spend on marketing food is an incredible £40 billion. An interesting figure to put that in perspective is that for every dollar spent by the World Health Organisation on preventing obesity and related illnesses, the global food industry spends 500 dollars promoting fatty foods. Diabetes UK is but one of the many health organisations which are concerned about that.
In the UK, food advertising accounts for some 50 per cent of all advertising in children's programmes. Of that, three-quarters was for fast or convenience food. It is small wonder that a Guardian poll in October last year showed that 57 per cent of adults wanted food advertising banned during children's TV programmes. With the growing concern about the increase in child obesity and with other countries sharing our concerns about direct marketing, is it time for further action in the UK? That is a difficult question. There is an inevitable unease, which I share, about living in what is seen as an increasingly nanny state.
Moreover, we are calling almost daily, and equally rightly, for young people to be fully involved in decisions that effect themnot least if we are to re-engage them as our future citizens in democratic processes. So why should not the young, it might be
Most companies today are well aware, through Mori polls and the like, that customer loyalty, and therefore a successful bottom line, depends on them behaving as corporate responsible citizens. Where more important than in the food marketing industry? To move further down that road may be sufficient to change some of the most unscrupulous marketing techniques.
Voluntary actions such as those increasingly being agreed between manufacturers and school authoritiesto remove brand logos from vending machines in schools and to introduce and promote water, fruit and healthier foods alongside the unhealthy favouritesare surely steps in the right direction. Certainly, that kind of behaviour can usefully be encouraged throughout the country.
Happily, with a number of government pilot schemes, there are signs that this is beginning to happen. In recent months, too, the increased media coverage about the dangers to us all from unhealthy foods has raised general awareness of the problem as well as an increase in MPs' questions calling for more action by the Government.
So if restraint could be agreed voluntarily for all advertisements used on TV before the watershed, or at the very least during actual children's programmes, and if Ofcom plays the important media education role it has been given and sees to it that children as well as adults become more sceptical viewers, that may be all that is needed.
But if, as I suspect to be the case, that proves ineffective, it may be time to begin applyingespecially to the marketing of unhealthy food to childrenthe well rehearsed "precautionary principle"; that is, it is time to take further action when threats of harm to human health or the environment are seen even though the cause and effect relationship has not been fully established.
Both the Food Standards AgencyI am sure that we will hear more about its views from my noble friend Lady Howarthand the Consumers' Association would appear to support further action along those lines. So does the scale of parental concern shown in a number of recent surveys. The National Family and Parenting Institute states:
In closing, I should like to remind your Lordships once again of the blatant brand marketing to pre-school children to the value of £4.3 billion a year. Should that be allowed to continue during children's programmes? A Private Member's Bill was recently introduced in the other place by Debra Shipley MP which would go some way to banning advertising during pre-school children's TV. I would support that step along the legislative road. The question isand I hope that it will be addressed by your Lordshipshow much further should we go in that legislative direction?
I am particularly looking forward to hearing the views, priorities and suggestions for action that your Lordships will put forward in your speeches. And of course, above all, I am looking forward to hearing from the Minister what the Government's reaction is to this area of concern and their plans to deal with it. I beg to move for Papers.
Lord Addington: My Lords, although I am interested in the subject of the debate, I wondered whether I had sufficient knowledge to make a worthwhile speech, but when I received a piece of briefing I was convinced that I should speak. It arrived via my Whips Office from the Advertising Association. The first page outlines the advertising industry's view on advertising to children. Paragraph 4 states:
I hope that the Advertising Association takes this kick in the pants and feels it as hard as I am aiming it. It has succeeded in raising another voice against it. I hope that if the association is paying someone to produce this stuff, it demotes him or gets rid of him. It is vaguely insulting.
Having been inspired, I started to look a little further. It became clear that behind that attitude lay the fear that there would be a ban or restriction on the advertising of confectionery, fizzy drinks and so forth. That has undoubtedly been inspired by the fact that a huge industry was built up around the claiming of compensation for damage resulting from the use of tobacco and in relation to tobacco advertising. The great advertising industry, having won on tobacco, is now turning to new targets. It may by cynical
Due to the shortness of time, I referred only to the executive summary of the FSA report, but when I began to read it I suddenly said, "This isn't rocket science". Home static entertainment has reached saturation level. When I was growing up, a long time ago now, only two channels provided children's programmes. They were shown only for a short time and to a mass market. As the noble Baroness said, today there are channels dedicated totally to the younger market.
I have a daughter who at 16 months is beginning to recognise television programmesor probably I have noticed that she is beginning to do so. That means she is a ready-made target for advertising. The BBC markets spin-off toys for childrenI have bought them for nephews who recognised the TV programme and wanted the toyand that is a form of advertising.
However, we must look strongly at dietary advertising shown at certain times. The fact of the matter is that we like to eat fat, salt and sugar and we always have done. Our traditional fast food is fish and chipsnot the slimmers' paradise, we can safely say. The fast-food format of the big hit of fat, salt and sugar has become much more readily available.
The FSA executive summary talks about the big four. I will not go into it, but it relates to the consumption of food purchased in supermarkets. People sit around snacking a lot of foods without a good nutritional balance and which are very high in calories and so forth. We have an audience which sits down and watches television as opposed to going out and doing things. As I said before, the fact that one had about two hours of children's programmes only meant that they had to find some other way of entertaining themselves, whether by kicking a football or something else. That meant that they could not just sit down. When sitting in front of a television set, which we all tend to do, we usually have something to eat or drink at the same time, whether a cup of tea or a sugary drink.
If we are to look at one area of advertising, I would suggest very highly sugared and caffeinated drinks. These drinks are sold in schools and action is going to be taken. I have just received information that Canada has banned the sale of fizzy drinks and in Scotland action has been taken to restrict their impact and to remove advertising. That should be a way forward to remove one link.
I discovered by accident through a radio programme that the consumption of cola drinks leads to consuming more calories more quickly. It is also very sugary. In the school environment one is going to be pumped up slightly more. We all know that because we all experience it. How often on a boring committee day have we had strong coffee and a couple of spoons of sugar to keep us awake? We all do and there is nothing new about it. The only thing that is new is the intensity of what is now taking place.
If we wish to tackle obesity and improve behaviour in schools, we should think long and hard about exactly what we are going to do in this area because it involves all the other aspects of the matter under discussion. If we wish people to have immediate sugar hits while watching television, then why should they go out? They are having a sugar "rush"; they have a picture before them and they do not have to think or move. They have the wonderful comforting feeling that they are doing something which is slightly wrong. Why should they move? We must think long and hard about what we are doing.
I occasionally find myself dragooned into doing a part of the family shopping with a small child. I have to make sure that she does not go too close to the brightly coloured items. I see families with perhaps three children going round the store. A child recognises a brightly-coloured packet and grabs it. I do not know what I would do in that situation with just one child. One can visualise three children grabbing their favourite sweets in association, for example, with a soft drink which is drunk by a sports star who is exhibiting a certain pair of trainers. I have recent experience of a particular brand of rugby boots provided to me and a few parliamentary friends. It was sports kit designed by arts students and worn by nobody. I will return to that and give names later on. It is incredibly difficult to resist products which are endorsed at that level.
I go back to the original inspirational advertisement. Anyone who says that it is merely to ensure brand share is talking rubbish. Apart from everything else, the market is constantly changing and becoming a more established spending market. I hope that we shall look long and hard at this matter. We will not overreact because we have always had a degree of fast food in our culture such as fish and chips, although it is hamburger bars now. But let us try to keep a balance.
Lord Rea: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, has chosen a very hot topic and developed the theme very skilfully. My consideration will focus mainly on food advertising and promotion. The nation has woken up at last to the extent and dangers of a developing epidemic of obesity. As the noble Baroness has said, some of the same considerations apply to the promotion of designer or branded toys, sports kit and computer games. These drain parents' bank balances and contribute to our massive private national debt. They encourage a sedentary lifestyle, which we do not want.
I declare an interest in the problem of food advertising since I am chairman of the All-Party Food and Health Forum and honorary secretary of the National Heart Forum, which has just made a detailed submission to the Department of Health on policy options on food marketing to children, the very topic
The food industry correctly points out that both children and adults have become much less physically active over the past two decades for a variety of reasons. That contributes to the imbalance between energy intake and energy output, which underlies the problem of overweight and obesity. I readily agree that this is the case and that to make a serious impact on the problem both sides of the equation need to be tackled.
But when advocating physical activity as the solution, it is worth remembering that it takes a surprisingly large amount of activity to burn off surplus calories. As regards a standard-size energy dense product such as a Snickers or Mars bar, which weighs about 50 grams and contains about 300 caloriesI am not speaking about the jumbo-size, which is twice as big and provides calories at a cheaper rate per calorieone should look at ways in which one might dissipate the 300 calories in the bar.
One way would be not to take the lift to the top of the Canary Wharf tower, but to climb the stairs at a fast rate of, say, 92 steps per minute, which would equate to 50 feet per minute. That is for an average-size adult. That exercise would metabolise about nine kilocalories each minute, according to Department of Health figures. To dissipate the energy in the Mars bar in that way would require 33 minutes of climbing. That would achieve a 1650 foot vertical ascent, the equivalent of walking to the top of the tower more than twice over. An overweight person would have more trouble in doing it because they would expend more energy each step. Only a trained athlete could do that without frequent stops for breath. I found the calculation very hard to believe. I have double checked the figures and they are correct.
The point of the exercise is to emphasise how extremely difficult it would be to increase physical activity on a population-wide basis to the extent necessary to overcome our current obesity problem. To be fair, regular, moderate exercise does seem to increase the resting metabolic rate, which helps to use up further calories. Exercise must play a part in the fight against fat, but control of the food intake is far easier to achieve in the short term and in my view it is far more important.
The noble Baroness has outlined the extent of the problem of advertising to children. I have some information to supplement hers coming from a monograph called "TV Dinners: What's being served up by the advertisers?", which is the result of careful research by Charlie Powell for Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming, which closely observed 40 hours of commercial television programmes. To summarise the results, food advertising is two to three times more frequent during children's hours of viewing than during adult viewing periods. Up to 10 food adverts per hour may appear during children's viewing of commercial television. More than half of the adverts for food during children's viewing times are for confectionery, cake or
A further thorough review and research into the effect of food advertising was carried out last year by Professor Gerard Hastings and his team from Strathclyde, City and Oxford universitiesa review commissioned by the Food Standards Agency. I previously described that carefully conducted study in your Lordships' House during an Unstarred Question on obesity tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, last October. Its findings confirm and amplify Sustain's work, but its main impact was to establish clearly good research evidence that advertising influences children's food preferences and what they consumeresearch that, until recently, the food industry could, erroneously, say was lacking.
That finding was scarcely surprising, as it is presumably to change children's habits that manufacturers and fast-food caterers promote their wares. They would not do it if it did not work. They know that it works. Unfortunately, the diet that they advertise, to cite the report to the Food Standards Agency,
The question of whether to tighten the voluntary agreements entered into by the food and drink and advertising industries, which are now clearly insufficient, or to legislate, to introduce statutory legislation, now faces the Food Standards Agency, the Department of Health and, currently, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and Ofcom. Judging by her more recent informal statements, the Secretary of State, Tessa Jowell, although clearly recognising that there is a problem, would first like the food industry to put its own house in order.
Most of those who work in public health in the widest sense feel that that is unlikely to be effective. The Minister herself, having battled with the tobacco industry, probably knows that too but, at present, tactics dictate that she wears kid gloves. In her words, she prefers,
Under such a voluntary agreement, the content or quality of advertisements under such a system might improve, but it is unlikely that the industry will ever agree to restrict the total or cumulative volume of advertising without a statutory requirement to do so. However, if a strengthened voluntary code is to be tried first, it is important that the Department of Health, the Food Standards Agency and consumer organisations have an input into drawing up the code: it should not be left to the food and advertising industries and Ofcom alone.
The effectiveness of any voluntary agreement should be closely monitored for a limited period, with the clear understanding that regulation will follow as night after day it is not fully effective. The Department of Health has received the full report of the National Heart Forum, drawn up by Jane Landon, on policy options for food marketing to children, which I mentioned earlier. That report followed the forum's "young@heart" initiative, which was a life course approach to preventing coronary heart disease. The report explores in much greater detail all the issues over which I have skated and includes international comparisons.
I hope that my noble friend will recommend that that thorough analysis reaches not only the Department of Health but all relevant government departments before any decisions are made. The report would also be useful to the House of Commons Health Select Committee, which is now approaching the end of its inquiry into obesity.
The noble Baroness has raised a topic of great importance and urgency for the nation's future health. I very much hope that the Government will take heed of the warnings and useful suggestions that have already been made in the debate.
Baroness Howarth of Breckland: My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, on instigating this important debate. She is a consistent supporter of the rights of children and this debate is more than anything else about our adult responsibility to ensure that children have every opportunity to grow up with good health, able to enjoy long, disease-free life without the stigma of obesity.
I remind the House that obesity is not only a health problem. The charity Childline has listened to hundreds of children who are suffering from bullying simply because they are seen by their peers as fat. We know the implications of bullying for emotional growth.
It is a shocking fact that the 2002 health survey for England found that 16 per cent of children between the ages of two and 15 are obese and 30 per cent are either overweight or obese. As we have heard, diet and nutrition are key factors in increasing the risk of cancer, stroke and coronary heart disease, as well as a number of other serious diseases. It is also known that obesity is associated with increased risk of mortality. In 2002, cases of mature onset diabetes in obese children were reported for the first time. The National Audit Office has projected that by 2010, one in four adults will be obese and the total cost to the National Health Service and economy will be about £3.6 billion.
I declare an interest as a member of the board of the Food Standards Agency, which is currently considering ways to encourage children to eat a more healthy and balanced diet. In that context, the agency is also considering the role played by marketing and promotional activities in influencing what children eat.
Industry, meanwhile, doubts the ability of advertising to influence the balance of children's diets, and considers the decrease in children's physical activity to be the major contributing factor to obesity. There certainly needs to be action on both diet, or calories in, and activity, or energy out, although if I went up the tower at the pace suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Rea, I think I might have a heart attack.
However, in the interests of children and the future health of the nation, to do nothing is simply not an option. In September, the Food Standards Agency published the results of a systematic review of the available evidence on the issue, the Hastings review, which has been described by the noble Lord, Lord Rea, so I shall not repeat him. It concludes that advertising to children affects their preferences, purchase behaviour and consumption. Those effects are apparent not just for different brands but for different types of food.
To follow the review through, the agency has held a meeting of academics to debate it, together with another research review produced by the industry on 31 October. The seminar, the peer review, supported the conclusions reached in the Hastings review. I assume that the debate will continue.
The agency then published a paper that sets out a range of policy options to address all aspects of the marketing and promotion of food for children. The purpose of the paper is to provoke a wide-ranging discussion on the appropriate way forward. Although I admire the real passion of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, we must have research and reason if we are to win the debate.
A stakeholder meeting was held in December to begin to consider how the issue might be taken forward. It identified four main strands for further work: composition and labelling of retail foodspeople still do not know what is in the food that they have in their hand; broadcast advertising; consumer information; and provision of healthier options in food services. A large public meeting will be held in January to be attended by a wide-ranging audience to take those issues further. There will also be discussions at open meetings in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
As the Minister knows, the agency board is due to discuss the issue in March 2004. It is anticipated that it will consider a wide range of policy options, which may be regulatory or voluntary, after which advice will be given to Ministers.
In December, Tessa Jowell publicly called on the newly established Ofcom to review the rules covering food advertising on television. Ofcom's chief executive, Stephen Carter, responded with an open letter on Ofcom's website. Ofcom has committed itself to further research to help decide what action it considers necessary. That work will comprise further research into the impact of food advertising on children's diets; an examination of the context of both the FSA's report and the factors that have led to the issue being on the public agenda; and an independent assessment of the Hastings review. But does Ofcom really need to repeat all that work already carried out by the FSA and others?
However, the industry is right in one area: this is not a one-issue problem; it is complex. There was a time when to be sent to your room was punishment; now, parents have told the National Family and Parenting Institute, it is hard to get them out. A 2002 survey by the Independent Television Commission revealed that, on average, each household has three television sets and that, on average, children aged four to 15 spend two hours 23 minutes watching television. Sustain estimates that 95 per cent of advertising during children's television programmes is for fatty, salty or sugary foods. Will the Minister think about what research might be carried out jointly by general government departments to take that work forward? Research on the influence of advertising is contested, but my question is: if it is not effective, why, in 2001, did food advertisers spend £161 million on selling chocolate and sweets in the UK, much of it directed at children?
There is no doubt that the issue will need action on many fronts, and that departments and agencies, both statutory and non-governmental, must work together. The Food Standards Agency, the Department of Health and organisations such as the National Family and Parenting Institute need to work together withdare I say itindustry in tackling the difficult problem. What are the Government doing to ensure that the many departments involved in this complex problem work together to a good solution?
The Food Standards Agency is working on ways to encourage children to eat a healthier diet, including the promotion of novel ways to increase children's fruit and vegetable intake; for example, using the Bash Street Kids comic-strip characters and a "how to" guide on fruit tuck shops, an alternative to buns and biscuits. The agency is looking at the promotion of a healthy diet and activity through, for example, an interactive CD-ROM called "Dish it Up!" for 11 to 12 year-olds and a school lunch-time based nutrition and physical activity programme for seven to nine year-olds. It is also looking at the improved promotion of diet through peer education, because we know that children have much more influence on each other than we adults have on them.
Many factors influence what children eat, or calories in, and the measure of exercise that they take, or energy out. It is also a result of changing behaviour. But we cannot condemn the next generation to poor health, if some of what we know can make a difference. It is the responsibility of us all to remember that to do nothing is
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