Children’s Food Bill

I do support many aspects of the Children’s Food Bill but not all of it. As you may know, this Bill is a Private Member’s Bill and as such it is unlikely to become law. It was on the House of Commons Order Paper for Friday, 16 June but was not reached. If the Government was serious about this issue it would have allowed this Bill parliamentary time or introduced a Government Bill.
I believe that it is important that we address the sedentary lifestyle that many children and adults now have. As the WI campaign states, it is crucial that exercise is encouraged as well as a healthy diet, something that this Bill failed to address. It is important that action is taken to reverse this worrying trend. There needs to be increased opportunities for sport and exercise in schools and in the community.
It is now over a year since Jamie Oliver's TV series brought the issue of school meals to the fore. An important part of healthy meals is to ensure that there are tougher nutritional standards. I believe that that is not the only answer. A recent Ofsted survey showed that there are still too many pupils who still do not have a school meal and are instead buying junk food or eating unhealthy packed lunches.
I have long argued that schools should stock healthy items in school vending machines and that food high in fat, salt and sugar should not be sold in school canteens. I also supported the announcement made by the then Education Secretary, Ruth Kelly MP, to curb the availability of junk food in schools. It was definitely a positive step in the right direction.
Many businesses have taken on board the advice that the Government originally offered on school nutritional values and also the comments from schools, and created and found healthy alternatives to what children are presently offered. I do not think that a blanket ban on items such as bagged savoury products should be enforced because there are many snacks which enable children to have sufficient levels of fibre and vitamins.
The Government introduced the School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme following worrying reports that less than 4% (one in 25) of four to six year olds eat the recommended five or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Under the Scheme, all four to six year old children in LEA maintained infant, primary and special schools will be entitled to a free piece of fruit or vegetable each school day. I welcomed the announcement of the scheme when it was introduced.
In respect of the issue of introducing compulsory food education and related practical skills into the National Curriculum, many schools do already offer these skills within the existing system. I think a curriculum requirement would be a good idea, provided it was not onerous for schools to accommodate.
I also feel that the measures in the Bill for a ban on food advertising could prevent anyone who wanted to advertise more ‘healthy food’ from doing so. A ban would also have a significant impact on the ability of broadcasters that rely on advertising for revenue, to offer children’s programming. It is also impossible to define what is children’s television and adult television. For example, the Simpsons, Hollyoakes and Eastenders would all be outside a ban on advertising in ‘children’s TV time’ (e.g. 3.30pm – 5.30pm), but all have a significant children’s audience.
I think it would be more beneficial for the advertising industry to be harnessed to promote positive messages.
The Government now needs to think sensibly about how to tackle these issues, as well as ensuring that money allocated for school meals is actually reaching the school and not being siphoned off by local councils on the way.

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