These related topics prompted fifteen minutes of debate from a packed Chamber, as the responding Minister – Earl Howe – spelt out what the Government is doing to encourage healthier eating and prevent the problems associated with poor diet and lack of exercise, from worsening.
John Sharkey began proceedings by pointing out that not one of the companies signed up to the responsibility deal for calorie reduction is a fast-food operator. He asked if this suggested ‘a failure of the voluntary approach and that we [might now] need regulation to make [fast]-food companies play their proper part in reducing obesity.’
Chris Rennard had already set out his concerns in a detailed article on the Lib Dem Lords blog before the debate. In it, he explained why the Government needs to offer greater information to consumers about how much sugar they’re consuming. He called on more manufacturers to implement the new front-of-pack nutrition labelling scheme and also raised the urgent issues of the marketing of sugary food and drinks and the importance of school nutrition standards.
In the Chamber, Chris went on to ask the Minister whether ‘he agrees with the Secretary of State for Health, that legislation may be required in this area if other measures do not succeed.’ He also asked whether ‘consideration needs to be given to changing tax regimes so that the tax may be rather higher on very sugary soft drinks, and rather lower on drinks that are less full of sugar.’ This of course hit the headlines only very recently. Finally, and perhaps most interestingly, Chris also suggested ‘restrict[ing] the amount of sugar provided in some products, such as breakfast cereals targeted at children, so that parents (either as consumers or watching their children) can see how many spoons of sugar are going on to their cereal – rather than simply accepting the amount of sugar already produced by the manufacturers’.
The debate has made it abundantly clear that though there’s much to be done, there are multitudes of ways in which we can curb the UK’s appetite for sugar. The Government needs to act now to encourage healthier eating and prevent the health problems linked to unhealthy diets, (high in fat, salt and sugar) from evolving into a national crisis.
* Oliver Sidorczuk is a Liberal Democrat Research Assistant in the House of Lords