Westminster Hall Diabetes Debate

South West Bedfordshire MP Andrew Selous said today in Parliament that local GPs should not be blamed for increasing levels of obesity.

In the speech he recently pointed to very high levels of sugar present in much of our food like breakfast cereals and disgracefully even in baby milk and baby food. He praised the recent remarks from the Chief Medical Officer calling for fruit and vegetables to be made more affordable and available.

The extract from Hansard is as follows:

Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con)

It is a pleasure to speak in this important debate, because diabetes is so significant in the UK. There are 4.6 million people with diabetes and on current projections we are on track to have more than 5 million people suffering from it by 2025. Ninety per cent. of people with diabetes have type 2, and being overweight or obese accounts for 80% to 85% of a person’s risk of developing the condition, so I shall focus my remarks on what is causing the hugely unwelcome surge in diabetes across the UK and, more importantly, what we need to do about it.

The shocking fact is that a quarter of children go into primary school reception overweight or obese. By the time that they leave, one third are overweight or obese. They are being educated, but overall they are becoming less healthy, which has worrying implications for their future life chances. In the UK at the moment, 30% of all children and 60% of adults are overweight or obese. The worry is that it has become almost normalised. People do not notice it and do not think it is a problem. To me, that is a huge social justice issue. Obesity rates are twice as high in the most deprived communities as in the least deprived. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes) made that point eloquently in his opening remarks.

I was particularly impressed by the remarks of our wonderful chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, just before Christmas. She hit hard at a number of targets and came out with some important truths. She had the food industry in her sights—she said that it benefits from selling unhealthy food, that it does not pay for the harm it does, and that it clearly has not done enough. She raised the fact there is added sugar in baby milk and baby foods, for goodness’ sake. What is the justification for that, other than to put babies and very young children towards a life of sugar addiction? It is scandalous and we should call it out. Frankly, the Government should ban it as soon as they are able, and if we have to leave the European Union to do so it should be an early priority at the beginning of April.

I did not come into public life just to ban things. The corollary, of course, is that we need to make the healthy choice the easy choice, and to be all about promoting wonderful, healthy, delicious, nutritious—often British—food. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings made that point well, too. Dame Sally Davies discussed whether there might be a need for price subsidies for fruit and vegetables. Let us make fruit and vegetables—good food that will not cause obesity and diabetes—more accessible, available and affordable to our constituents. That could be done through the taxation system. Dame Sally also called for sugary milk drinks to come within the soft drinks industry levy, which is entirely sensible.

It is worth looking at some of the foods currently on supermarket shelves. Taking children’s breakfast cereals, for example, 37 grams out of 100 grams of Kellogg’s Frosties are sugar. The figure for Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut cornflakes is 35.3 grams per 100 grams. For Kellogg’s Coco Pops it has come down a little bit, but there are still 30.9 grams of sugar per 100 grams. Those are pretty appalling figures, when we think how much sugar that is.

In 2017, some own brands were not much better. Lidl Golden Balls had 36 grams of sugar per 100 grams. Aldi Sugar Frosted Flakes had 35 grams per 100 grams. Tesco Frosted Flakes had 34.9 grams. Those are Public Health England figures and some relate to August 2017, while some, such as the Kellogg’s ones, are current. We need to call that out. Not enough progress is being made, and unless healthier food is available for our constituents we shall not turn the supertanker around. We know from Public Health England that chocolate confectionery and biscuits between them account for more than 300,000 tonnes of sugar going into our diet every year. That is more than from all the other food categories put together.

My first plea is that we should do more with food manufacturers. They need to get with the programme and to know that many of us in the House have them in our sights. I am a Conservative and believe in the free market. I do not want the state to produce our food. However, there is a serious challenge, because we all pay for the NHS through our taxes and the food industry is causing a large part of the problem. Dr Chris Marshall, one of my best local GPs, had to defend the diabetes prevalence in his area and what was happening about it, but it is not fair to blame GPs when so much is stacked against them because of the food industry, among other things. The food industry needs to raise its game. It has been getting away with too much for too long and the Government need to play hard ball with it.

Active travel is another area I want to consider. I came to the House of Commons on a bicycle this morning, because I could. For our children, when we design new housing estates, let us make sure they can bicycle or walk to school. Let us get more cycling and walking in cities. It is a design and planning issue. Officials and a Minister from the Department of Health and Social Care are here for the debate. We need a cross-Government strategy to build in active and healthy travel for children and adults to help the situation.

Calorie information is also relevant. Public Health England tells us that women should eat up to 2,000 calories a day and that men should eat up to 2,500. I wonder whether anyone here knows how many calories they had for breakfast, or how many they will have for lunch or supper. What is the point of giving us that daily total if none of us has a clue how much we eat? Here is a suggestion. For people who are waiting 10 minutes to see the doctor, why not have on the surgery wall examples of the different meals that the British public mainly eat, with a rough idea of how many calories there are in them? Would not that be a start to education? It would be free, easy, and a good use of the surgery wall in a public space where we all sit and wait. Why do not we try to get some of that public information out there so that we can do something and know what we are doing?

We have talked about schools. I do not blame teachers, who have more than enough to do trying to teach children, but they have a public education role. Given that we have gone from one quarter of children to one third being overweight or obese, there should be much more emphasis on providing proper education to children on food when they are taught to cook.

We must also look to Parliament. There has rightly been a move, which I am sure you approve of, Mr Robertson, to make this a more plastic-free Parliament. I approve of that and it is right, but the information in our catering outlets about their offerings is not as good. Let us set an example on our own doorstep.