HL Deb 04 November 1986 vol 481 cc1015-7

2.43 p.m.

Baroness Lane-Fox

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps are being taken through school programmes to help pupils not to develop coronary heart disease and other conditions from which they would suffer later in life.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, the aim of all health education offered by schools is to encourage pupils to adopt healthy lifestyles and to avoid behaviour which may lead to ill-health, including coronary heart disease. The Government have made clear their view that health education is an essential aspect of schools' work.

Baroness Lane-Fox

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for that reply. Is she aware that the Life Education Centre Scheme devised in Australia by the Rev. Ted Noffs, though primarily against drugs abuse, also provides a great deal of preventive advice against the health conditions referred to in this Question? Is she further aware that the scheme is based on videos and information packs transported in caravans and that a three-month trial is expected to start in January under Essex Education Authority? The scheme is generously supported in this country by the Variety Clubs of Great Britain and others, and the Prince of Wales is taking a very keen interest in the result of the trials.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I am aware of the scheme, and even more importantly my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is aware of the plans for this experimental initiative. I understand that details are still under discussion to ensure that the work fits into the overall programmes of health education in the schools concerned in Essex. The Government will watch the outcome with considerable interest. The question of any possible wider application of this type of work must of course await the results of the experiment.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that the two most important habits which, if begun at school age, are likely to persist into adulthood and contribute to coronary heart disease are cigarette smoking and a diet leading to overweight? In view of the very high levels of coronary heart disease which, tragically, we have in Britain, is she really satisfied that enough is being done in schools to discourage smoking and to encourage a balanced diet?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, schools already teach about the risk factors associated with heart disease; for example, about the importance of a healthy diet and the avoidance of obesity; and the importance of exercise and the dangers of smoking and alcohol abuse to which the noble Lord referred. The Government are keeping the matter under review and are encouraging at all possible stages further action such as that referred to in the White Paper Better Schools.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that there appears among young people to be a greater prevalence of hay fever, asthma and even heart disease? Does she agree that anything which can watch over this and perhaps improve the general health of young people is to be praised and encouraged? If this experiment in Essex is successful, will the Government draw the attention of the local authorities and of the teacher training colleges to its success and therefore help promote it?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I shall not rule out anything at this stage. The Government may take more positive steps if it emerges both from the experiment and from the results of the discussion document which is under way that further steps are required.

Lord Ardwick

My Lords, is it not a fact that when we were at school we were able to eat large quantities of steak and kidney pudding and chips, followed by college pudding and custard, and that we could do that with impunity because we were athletic? We were on the go all the time. Does the noble Baroness agree that it is not children who need education in diet but rather that as young people become older and give up their athletic habits they must cease to sow their wild oats or ingest such large quantities of fat?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, the longevity in your Lordships' House is perhaps proof that many of your Lordships took seriously the form of education that they had at school. As some of the aims and objectives of programmes to combat coronary heart disease include factors such as hypertension and stress, perhaps too much concentration on stress is a mistake.

Lord Rea

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware—I am sure she is—that there is increasing evidence from the United States that the early stages of coronary heart disease are being found increasingly in children and adolescents? Does she not agree that this has important nutritional implications? Bearing that in mind, will the Government reconsider their 1980 decision to abolish nutritional standards for school meals, particularly now that coronary heart disease appears to be affecting more than it used to do the less well-off sections of our community?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I shall ensure that the noble Lord's remarks are brought to the attention of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. Certainly in this field, as in many others in education, the position is kept constantly under review.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend the Minister what steps the Government themselves are taking to update health education in schools?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, as my noble friend may know, there is a recent HMI discussion document entitled Health Education Iron? 5 to 16, which offers valuable guidance in this area. The Government-funded Health Education Council also has a coronary heart disease prevention programme known as Heartbeat 2000. Furthermore, plans are in hand for a new national campaign of public education generally in this field under the title Look After Your Heart, to be mounted jointly by the DHSS and the Health Education Council. It is to be launched in April next year.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, can the noble Baroness confirm that Mrs. Currie is going to be put in charge of this programme?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, perhaps I should repeat what I said earlier: that at this stage we will not rule out anything.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, is not the most effective way of minimising the effect of heart disease to have the right mother and father in the first place?

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

My Lords, is the Minister aware that many local authorities would like to embark on schemes such as that in Essex, but unfortunately cannot do so because of lack of moneys provided by the DES?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, as I said earlier, the matter is under constant review. This discussion paper has been published only recently and the results are coming in all the time, and will be until the end of the December deadline. The whole position will be looked at fully then.

Baroness Lane-Fox

My Lords, does not my noble friend the Minister agree that this is an extraordinarily important matter when one takes into account that lessons learnt at school stay with one and will have the effect of saving the National Health Service, in times of great expenditure, a great deal of money later on?

Baroness Hooper

Yes indeed, my Lords. The DHSS as well as the Department of Education and Science is concerned to ensure that preventive measures of this sort can be taken. It is a wide question, because not only does it concern schools but there is the important wider educational effect and the back-up and support of parents in the home environment. However, as the debates in your Lordships' House during proceedings on the Education Bill showed, this matter of health education is very important.