09/12/14 – Q&A with Luciana Berger MP, Shadow Public Health Minister

Speaker: Luciana Berger MP, and Helen Clark on the progress of the first working group

Tuesday 9 December 2014

All-Party Parliamentary Group on Fit and Healthy Childhood

AGM and speaker meeting

Chair: Jim Fitzpatrick MP

Jim Fitzpatrick MP Chaired the All-Party Group Annual General Meeting. Present were Jim Fitzpatrick MP, Luciana Berger MP and Lord Haworth. The current Officers were all returned unopposed and Diana Johnson MP was added as an additional Vice-Chair.

He then welcomed APPG attendees to the wider speaker meeting.

Helen Clark gave an account of the progress of the Group’s first Report, Healthy Patterns for Healthy Families; giving thanks to  Slimming World for sponsorship and Danone Nutricia for production of a very attractive ‘hard copy’ and all the APPG members who had contributed topic area papers.

Jim Fitzpatrick MP then introduced the evening’s speaker, Shadow Public Health Minister, Luciana Berger MP.

Luciana Berger made the following observations in her presentation:

Challenges arise from a consideration of statistics recently released by the National Child Measurement programme. In 2013 there was a 0.2% reduction in children deemed to be overweight or obese. In 2014, the figure has gone up.

1 million children are obese and one third of children leaving primary school are overweight.   Moreover, the increased pressure on the NHS to deal with lifestyle-related disease makes a compelling case for prevention as a priority

Children’s health is frequently bypassed in policy-making; that is why the remit of this APPG is so relevant and timely.

Children partake in insufficient physical activity; the cost of this is also economic. The causes of obesity are complex; food intake can contribute but it is important that schools work in partnership with Local Authorities to ensure the availability of good quality physical activity in school time.

Labour will ensure that physical activity is at the centre of its public health policy, with a key role for all sectors, including business, the media, the NHS, schools and universities. The policy will prioritise quality sports provision in school and Local Authorities must ensure that children can walk and cycle safely to schools. Universities and colleges will be required to make their sports facilities accessible and affordable.

The NHS must reconfigure from an over-concentration on the ‘treatment’ mentality to an emphasis on good health promotion. The social model should be ‘whole person care’, combining physical and mental health promotion with disease prevention.

Labour’s forthcoming public health policy will be evidence-based with an emphasis on:

Alcohol: 13,000 children per annum are treated for problems involving alcoholic drink with a consequent cost to the NHS of £3 million a year. This issue should be addressed early.  Young people are particularly attracted to low cost, high strength alcohol and Labour will deploy a range of different measures including labelling, and addressing the manner in which alcohol is promoted.

Smoking: two thirds of adult smokers developed the habit as children. , Labour wishes to reduce exposure to ‘second hand’ smoke, and will endeavour to reduce initial take-up. A recent amendment to the ‘Police and Crime’ Bill will make proxy buying (for children under 18) a criminal offence. Smoking in cars in the presence of children has already been banned.   The standardisation of cigarette packaging is a priority for Labour.

Working with WHO on sugar content food guidelines. This will entail strengthening the terminology and expression used in food labelling.

Questions and comments

Could there be incentives for businesses, such as reduced business rates, for those shops selling healthier food?  Will the responsibility deal be ended by the Labour Party?

Luciana Berger MP: Labour will incentivise healthy eating and will look at ways to make healthy food more affordable. Labour has ruled out a sugar tax, in order not to put economic onus on the consumer, particularly in economic difficult times.

The report on hunger is also significant in this debate. There are lots of relevant elements in that too.

The Labour Party welcomes the part played by companies who signed up to the responsibility deal. It is clear that voluntary agreements will only go so far, there is not a level playing field, and some companies do not take action, meaning some companies have resumed previous behaviours for fear of being commercially compromised; whilst other companies refused to sign up. The Labour approach will be based on what works and is evidence based, successful voluntary agreements will be continued but if necessary, bold action will be taken to improve the nation’s health. The example of salt is helpful, cutting down on salt did not need legislation, there was strong Ministerial leadership and involved all the industry. There are examples where it can work without regulation.

In terms of school activity, none of the initiatives to increase physical activity are rated by Ofsted, meaning a lack of incentive for schools to take up these programmes.

Luciana Berger MP:  Labour is keen to make physical activity and sport daily elements of school life.

Will the Labour manifesto reflect the crisis we have of obesity and a holistic approach to solving the problem?

Luciana Berger MP: Labour is absolutely clear that prevention is to be at the core of what needs to be done.

What are Labour’s plans to promote breast feeding as a public health issue?

Luciana Berger MP : Whilst there are no answers to this specific point at the moment, breast feeding is important, and Labour are concerned about it and acknowledge the nutritional and mental health benefits of breast feeding.  Labour has tried to hold the government to account on things like the recently cancelled breast feeding survey, it is important that it is continued. In the wider context of maternity services, we know that they are currently incredibly constrained, obviously meaning midwives have less time to help new mothers to engage in breast feeding.  If [the contributor] has any specific ideas, please feed them back.

What action could Labour take on negotiating on the issues around reformulation of salt and sugar at EU level?

Luciana Berger MP: Whilst there are no answers at the moment, the Labour Party is looking closely at the issue of labelling and reformulation.

Public health allocations by Local Authorities do not match the scale of the problem (more is spent on substance misuse) how will Labour seek to change the emphasis?

Luciana Berger MP: This is an important point, public health budgets are now in the hands of Local Authorities which are now finding their feet, after initial teething troubles and challenges. This is an opportunity to connect disparate outcomes frameworks; this can be done through the new Health and Wellbeing Boards.

Will there be more than voluntary initiatives? In terms of changes in food promotion (which was not part of the responsibility deal), the industry has not got involved and it looks like they are not going to do much more, what will be done on food promotion?

Luciana Berger MP:  It is significant that research suggests we buy a third of the saturated fat in our diets from the promotions at the end of the aisle. Everyone has a part to play in tackling these issues. As yet, Labour won’t set out the detail on this area.

Deeper nutritional issues need to be targeted (such as low fibre and vitamin D deficiency in the early years).

Luciana Berger MP: The list of issues previously listed is not exhaustive. We welcome the introduction of cooking lessons in schools and acknowledge that lots of different things are being looked at; there are lots of different things in the round, on nutrition.

There is no education or training for teachers and support workers for what happens at playtime. Will Labour focus more money on sport?

Labour is looking at extending the school day, which would include the chance for more physical activity e.g. football at breakfast. There are lots of different points to make sure that physical activity is part and parcel of every school day.

The meeting closed.