HC Deb 16 July 1997 vol 298 cc215-6W
Mr. Martyn Jones

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what new initiatives his Department is planning in respect of obesity; and if he will make a statement. [8742]

Ms Jowell

Tackling obesity is a particularly challenging problem. "The Health of the Nation" target is to reduce the percentages of men and women aged 16–64 who are obese to 6 per cent. for men and 8 per cent. for women by 2005. However in 1995 15 per cent. of men and 16.5 per cent. of women were obese, highlighting the gravity of the problem. Obesity is a long-term problem and needs a long-term strategy. We will continue to support the action on obesity and obesity-related illness initiated by the Nutrition Task Force and the Physical Activity Task Force which addresses:

  1. (a) general initiatives offering guidance on correct bodyweight;
  2. (b) the particular problems of high risk groups e.g. those already overweight; and
  3. (c) treatment of those who are already obese.

These activities focus on addressing the major influences on increasing fatness—fat in the diet and physical activity. The nutrition task force programme comprises a number of projects which are continuing after the task force itself has completed its work.

The role of physical activity in helping to maintain a healthy weight is well recognised. The "Active for Life" campaign, which is funded by the Department and run by the Health Education Authority, promotes the value of increased physical activity. The campaign targeted people aged 16 to 74 in its first year and will continue to run to 1999. As part of this campaign we are also looking at physical activity and young people. To this end, an expert conference was held in June to establish the optimum levels of physical activity for school aged children and young people. A report and consensus statement will be published in the autumn.

We also recognise how important a balanced diet is for giving young people a healthy start in life. This is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment has recently proposed the introduction of nutrition standards for inclusion in school meals contracts.