HC Deb 16 April 1996 vol 275 cc493-4
1. Mr. Sheerman

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what recent research his Department has evaluated on the relationship between diet and health. [23463]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. John Bowis)

We continually evaluate existing and new research into the relationship between nutritional aspects of diet and health and we are advised by the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food and Nutrition Policy.

Mr. Sheerman

Given that the Government—especially the Department of Health—seem to have an expertise in creating panic and hysteria about the link between diet and health, I invite them to turn their attention, with that particular expertise, to the relationship between poverty and health and the fact that poverty, low benefits, the withdrawal of free school milk and the damage done to the school meals service all mean that many of our children now face a shorter life expectancy and poor health. What will the Government do to tackle that serious problem?

Mr. Bowis

I suppose that we have to try to calm the panic that is being stirred up by the hon. Gentleman. The truth is that we monitor these things; we have task forces and groups that consider them. Surveys show that, irrespective of income, people receive adequate nutrients in their daily diet, and that people on both higher and lower incomes need to do something about their eating of fats, including saturated fats. Those on lower incomes, however, tend to eat fewer fruits and vegetables.

All the surveys show that, increasingly, people are aware of the dietary health messages; the problem is persuading them to do something about it.

Mr. Tredinnick

Does my hon. Friend accept that some E-additives and colourings in food can cause behavioural disorders, such as hyperactivity, especially in small children? Does he believe that there is a case for more research into the subject? Will he tell the House what research has been undertaken so far?

Mr. Bowis

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Advisory committees advise the Government on such matters as the effects of additions to foodstuffs. The Department of Health has a £2 million, four-year research programme—currently in its third year—inquiring into a range of issues.

We do take these matters seriously, as my hon. Friend does, and when appropriate we learn lessons from the research and draw those lessons to the attention of the public.

Mrs. Anne Campbell

Has the Minister any plans to visit the Dunn nutrition unit in Cambridge, which is doing valuable research into the relationship between diet and health? Does he feel that the prior options review, which is under way, should certainly not damage that important basic research, which is so valuable to us all?

Mr. Bowis

I might pass on the hon. Lady's kind invitation to visit Cambridge to my noble Friend Baroness Cumberlege, who deals with such matters from day to day. We value highly the work that is done in such places, alongside all the other research, the results of which are presented to the Government.

There is a great deal of research into diet and nutrition. Much of it is good; some of it is contradictory. We have the task of evaluating and assessing the messages that are brought to Government so that we know the best message to pass to the public.

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