In an interview with the Mirror, Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth told how his young daughters Gracie, 10, and Annie, seven, put him under “horrendous” pressure to buy unhealthy food
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Labour would ban junk food billboard adverts near schools under plans to combat childhood obesity.
Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth revealed the crackdown as he outlined the party’s proposals for boosting public health.
Speaking exclusively to the Mirror at the party’s conference in Brighton, he told how his young daughters Gracie, 10, and Annie, seven, put him under “horrendous” pressure to buy unhealthy food after being seduced by ads.
“I see it as a parent myself,” he said.
“It’s horrendous. I wish it was just crisps and chocolate – all these sweets which are disgusting! Why on earth would anyone want to eat these pure sugary sweets?”
Ian Vogler / Daily Mirror)
He admitted: “Of course at times I give in because I know what it’s like – I’m human like everyone else.
“I don’t want to give in and I beat myself up and feel incredibly guilty – hugely guilty because I know it’s unhealthy.
“I’m not blaming parents because people are under stress, under pressure – people are working hard, life these days is very exhausting for a lot of people, so I don’t blame anyone.”
Britain has one of the worst child obesity rates in western Europe.
A fifth of 10 to 11-year-olds are obese, according to latest figures for England.
Ian Vogler / Daily Mirror)
Last July, the Government unveiled plans to ban unhealthy “buy one, get one free” deals, bolster calorie labelling on restaurant menus and ban junk food adverts before the 9pm watershed.
Mr Ashworth said another measure to tackle rising childhood obesity is outlawing the placing of junk food billboards on kids’ routes to schools.
“We need to block advertising of junk food near schools,” said Mr Ashworth.
“We live in an environment which is encouraging unhealthy eating all the time and we need to tackle that.”
In July 2020, Paulette Hamilton, vice chairwoman of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board, said councils needed “tougher planning powers to tackle any clustering of takeaway outlets or junk food advertising, for example near schools”.
While details about how far the exclusion zone should extend are still being thrashed out, Mr Ashworth said seeing ads on the way to lessons was a key driver of youngsters’ craving for unhealthy snacks.
“The pressures it puts on exhausted parents who probably just give in… also, it’s cheaper to just buy processed food, which is high in sugar and salt,” he said.
“Children have to be at the heart of everything we do. There can be no keener judgement of how you judge a society than how you treat your children – that’s what Nelson Mandela said.”
The Shadow Health Secretary revealed an analysis by the House of Commons Library which showed that from 2016/17 to 2019/20, local authorities’ children’s public health services faced real-terms budget cuts of more than 10% – slashed by almost £120million.
According to Labour, money for obesity services for kids was cut by 14.6% in real-terms and the public health services fund for children aged five to 19 was reduced by 14.8%.
“Prescribed public health services” for children aged up to five suffered a 13.8% hit.
“Children’s health and wellbeing has been neglected for too long,” said Mr Ashworth.
“It’s time now for us to have the biggest children’s health and wellbeing programme we have ever seen.”
He believed money should be pumped into protecting public health – branding it a “false economy” to slash cash on prevention only to fork out later for curing ailments.
“There’s an old African saying – ‘Health is created at home, hospitals are for repair’,” he said.
“To keep people healthy, you’ve got to create a community in which people stay healthy, you’ve got to give them opportunities, you’ve got to invest in early years.”
Salford-born Mr Ashworth, who delivers his main conference speech on Tuesday, also feared for tots who are usually monitored by health visitors after visits were delayed during the pandemic.
“Health visitors, who are absolutely vital for ensuring that the very smallest of children are getting the check-ups and support they need – we haven’t been able to do as many visits because of the pandemic,” said the Leicester South MP.
“But even before the pandemic, children’s health and wellbeing was, I believe, seriously neglected in this country.”
He pointed to the rising number of children relying on foodbanks as “one of the most shameful things that scars our society”.
The Mirror told in May how the Trussell Trust gave away 2,537,198 emergency parcels in the year to April.
Nearly a million packages went to children – and with each parcel containing enough food for three meals a day for three days, it means the Trust provided 8,820,738 kids’ meals.
Mr Ashworth, who has previously spoken about his dad’s battle with drink, also pledged to boost alcohol labelling so calories are displayed on cans and bottles to curb boozing.
He also pushed for a greater role for the healthy living index – a measure of wellbeing – to be used alongside regular reporting of economic growth figures.
“It should be as central to our debate and public policy as GDP (gross domestic product),” said Mr Ashworth.