Schools should make obese pupils thinner says MP

Tory opposed to junk food ad ban says schools have 40 weeks a year to help pupils lose weight

Tes Reporter

Obesity warning

Children who are overweight should receive enough exercise in school to "make them thinner",  a Tory former minister has insisted.

Sir Desmond Swayne said it would be "staggeringly unproductive" if time cannot be used to "sufficiently exercise them to make them thinner" given that they spend around 40 weeks a year for more than a decade in school.

With one MP shouting out, "It's not the army", Sir Desmond made his remarks as he argued against proposed legislation to prevent junk food advertising being targeted at children.

Kirstene Hair, the Conservative MP for Angus, tabled the Food Advertising (Protection of Children From Targeting) Bill, noting that she wanted to reform broadcast and online regulations. 

Sir Desmond also told MPs that research is needed to establish the role of advertising in "making our children so much fatter" after health minister Steve Brine suggested it could have an impact.

Speaking to oppose the Bill, Sir Desmond recalled asking Mr Brine on Monday about why the poorest children are disproportionately among the fattest.

He told the Commons: "I suggested it wasn't because they watched more adverts. He responded that it might be the case that they watched more adverts. So could I suggest to (Ms Hair) that there's a piece of work that needs to be done first before this Bill proceeds - and that is to establish exactly what the role of advertising is in making our children so much fatter."

"The reality is children have always been the target of such advertising. She'll be too young to recall, but I certainly remember the Milky Bar Kid. His unique selling attraction was that the Milky Bars were going to be on him.

"(Ms Hair) suggested a much more profitable avenue for our attention - she pointed out that by the time children came to school, one in five was already too fat.

"Well, we will have those children in school for the best part of 15 years for 40 weeks a year for five days a week. It would be staggeringly unproductive if we cannot use that time to sufficiently exercise them to make them thinner. I suggest if we haven't the political will to do that, then advertising isn't going to do the job."

Ms Hair earlier said junk food advertising is only banned where programming is specifically for children's entertainment, but said more needs to be done around "family programming".

She went on: "Programmes such as The Voice, Coronation Street, Hollyoaks...It is a loophole clearly being exploited that must be closed.

"The high ratings of these shows mean that, despite the fact that nearly one million children might watch The Voice, because they do not make up 25 per cent of the audience it is not deemed a children's show.

"Therefore if we reduce the percentage threshold needed to mark a programme as appealing to children from 25 per cent it would reduce their exposure to junk food adverts at all times."

Ms Hair said online publishers should face a "straightforward ban on junk food promotions" for children and young people.

She added: "I've heard the argument that advertising doesn't have an impact on obesity and therefore government should not intervene – that is, in fact, a red herring.

"A good illustration of this is the money spent on advertising in 2015 – only 1.2 per cent of all food and non-alcoholic drink advertising was spent for vegetables, while 22.2 per cent was used for advertising cakes, biscuits, confectionery and ice cream."

Despite Sir Desmond's objections, Ms Hair was allowed to introduce her Bill and asked for it to receive a second reading on November 23. As a private members' Bill, it receives less parliamentary time and is unlikely to become law, though government backing would improve its chances. 


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