Nicola Blackwood is MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, and is the Public Health Minister.
Team GB’s incredible athletes have inspired us all – at home in London 2012, and now thousands of miles away in Rio. This Government wants to keep that inspiration alive for the adults of tomorrow – so today we published a plan to tackle unacceptably high levels of obesity in the younger generation. Nearly a third of children aged two to 15 are overweight or obese, and those with obesity are twice as likely to die prematurely. There are huge economic costs, too. We spend more each year on the treatment of obesity and diabetes than we do on the police, fire service and judicial system combined: an estimated £5.1 billion on overweight and obesity-related ill-health in 2014/15. We know children from low-income backgrounds are disproportionately impacted, with significant implications for their life chances.
Of course, this is a complex problem and there is no silver bullet solution. It requires concerted and co-ordinated effort from schools, communities, families and individuals – as well as central and local Government. I am confident our plan will help to deliver this, at the same time as respecting consumer choice and economic realities. There is nothing nanny state about trying to make healthy choices more available and desirable to boost the life chances of most disadvantaged children. But as Conservatives, we recognise that there is an important balance to be struck between state regulation and individual responsibility.
So our plan is centred on four bold steps designed to cut the amount of sugar in food and drinks, make healthy living easier for parents and children, and crucially, invest more in school sport.
Firstly, a new Soft Drinks Industry Levy. Sugary drinks are the single biggest source of sugar for children. It’s shocking to think that a child can have more than their recommended daily intake just by drinking a can of cola which contains nine teaspoons. Today, we launch a consultation on our new Soft Drinks Industry Levy; an ambitious sugar reduction programme which incentivises companies to cut sugar in soft drinks. No-one will be forced to pay the levy, so it doesn’t have to increase costs for business. Industry has a simple alternative of reformulating products before the levy comes into effect in 2018, and there are encouraging signs that many are choosing to do so.
Crucially, the money raised from products that have not been re-formulated will be channeled straight into additional funding for more school sport – hundreds of millions of pounds. So secondly, we will be asking primary schools and parents to make sure every pupil gets at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity a day, with at least 30 minutes to be delivered in school through active break times, PE and extra-curricular clubs. Look at somewhere like St Ninian’s school in Stirling, which has pioneered the Daily Mile – where all children run or walk a mile every day during school hours, and seen far healthier classes as result. We will be doubling the Primary PE and Sport Premium to support headteachers in this endeavour. A further £10 million will be invested into school breakfast clubs to give more children a healthier start to their day. Ofsted will also play an active role in encouraging this culture shift, with a new scheme to recognise when primary schools have taken steps to support their pupils to eat healthily and move more. A school’s healthy status will be shown on a new rating scheme, helping parents and school governors to encourage their schools to excel in this area.
Thirdly, we are asking the food and drinks industry to work towards a 20 per cent reduction in the sugar used in products popular with children, including a five per cent reduction in year one. There are many ways to achieve this, and many retailers and manufacturers are already showing that it can be done. Sugar levels can be cut, portion sizes can be reduced, or consumers can be encouraged to opt for lower sugar alternatives. Industry progress will be measured and reviewed by Public Health England, who will publish updates every six months. We value the contribution of businesses large and small to the British economy – creating jobs, paying taxes and promoting growth, so wherever we can our aim is to work with them to achieve positive change. But of course we won’t hesitate to act where producers persistently refuse to facilitate healthy choices for families.
Finally, we want to give parents much greater power over their family’s food choices by handing them better and more accessible information about the food they are buying. The UK’s decision to leave the European Union will give us greater flexibility to determine what information should be presented on packaged food, and how it should be displayed. We want to build on the success of our current traffic light labelling scheme, and look at where we can go further to ensure we are using the most effective ways to communicate information to families. This might include clearer visual labelling, such as teaspoons of sugar, to show consumers about the sugar content in packaged food and drink. We will also work with innovative partners to introduce new apps that allow parents to make use of the latest technology to support healthy eating.