Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Healthy children for a healthy future

Over the last few years campaigns such as Jamie Oliver's School Dinners and television shows such as LazyTown have helped raise awareness of childhood health and obesity, but we still have a long way to go.

Recently a number of studies have proved the vital importance of good nutrition for children.  A clear link has been found between a baby's weight at birth and lifelong health, largely dependent on the nutrition and lifestyle of the mother during pregnancy.  Another study found that diet during our first few years is crucial in determining how healthy our hearts will be during adult life.  And a group of expert researchers has just called on all governments, starting with the critical childhood years, to take tough action on obesity, which is costing us huge amounts in healthcare bills and human lives.

The set of reports, published in the Lancet, found that the most cost-effective measures include putting traffic light labelling on food to allow consumers to quickly identify healthier choices for their families.  This is something I fought hard for during the negotiations on new Europe-wide food labelling rules.  Unfortunately the power and wealth of the food industry managed to convince Europe's right wing MEPs and governments to vote against my proposals.  However I did manage to stop my opponents from banning the use of voluntary traffic light systems which many British retailers already have in place, and was also successful in getting a commitment on tough new measures for transfats, which are a major cause of heart disease.

Another recommendation of the Lancet reports was a tax on junk food.  Such measures are already in place in some EU countries, with Denmark boasting the most progressive legislation.  This is definitely something we should consider in the UKThe revenue from taxing things with high sugar or saturated fat content could be used to subsidise healthier options such as fresh fruit and vegetables, and make it easier for everyone to provide themselves and their families with decent food.

We all want our children to have the best possible start in life, and a nutritious diet and physical activity is key to that.  I will be putting pressure on the British Government and on the UN summit on health this September, as well as continuing to try and improve European legislation to make sure our policies are designed with our children's futures in mind.