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Jeremy Hunt urges BBC 'to play its part' in anti-obesity drive

Published 05/10/2015

Jeremy Hunt hopes the BBC will help in efforts to improve the diets of children
Jeremy Hunt hopes the BBC will help in efforts to improve the diets of children

Jeremy Hunt has said he would love CBeebies to tell children "chips are bad", as he also suggested the Government's "troubled families" project offers a chance to tackle obesity.

The Health Secretary joked the BBC's channel for pre-school children may lose viewers if it adopted his preferred message as he contemplated how to deal with his "sugar crazy" three-year-old daughter's eating habits.

Mr Hunt warned it is a "national disgrace" that 10% of children aged seven to 11 are becoming clinically obese, adding this could dent their self-confidence and academic performance.

He added the Government could be "a little bit more draconian" when dealing with childhood obesity and outline how to encourage schools and parents to approach the eating habits of youngsters.

Mr Hunt also looked to the Troubled Families programme, which aims to help families with long-term issues such unemployment, truancy, anti-social behaviour and crime, as a potential solution.

After he noted the link between obesity and social class, Mr Hunt said the Government scheme offers a "direct line into 300,000 of the most underprivileged" families in the country.

Appearing at a fringe event at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, Mr Hunt was qu estioned if the Government could put more pressure on public service broadcasters to help with social change and behaviour.

The Cabinet minister replied: "I've got a sugar crazy three-year-old daughter and I would love it if CBeebies was saying 'chips are bad, chips are bad' but I think that CBeebies might lose quite a few of its viewers.

"So I think it's a difficult question for a public service broadcaster but I think there is a lot you can do by increasing people's knowledge of these issues and certainly I would hope the BBC would play its part in that."

Earlier, Mr Hunt was a sked how the Government can deal with the obesity "crisis" while not betraying its Conservative principles.

Mr Hunt replied: "We don't want to tell people how to lead their lives, that is a Conservative principle. We don't like a nanny state except when it comes to children.

"Children are allowed nannies and I think we're able to be a little bit more draconian when it comes to childhood obesity and what we expect of people in schools and what we encourage parents to do in terms of bringing up their own children, because it is a national disgrace that one in 10 children enter primary school clinically obese and one in five children leave primary school obese.

"So between the age of seven and 11, 10% of our children are becoming clinically obese and it has very bad health implications, but also lots of other implications in terms of self-confidence, academic performance, all these other things.

"It won't just be a health strategy, it needs to be education, local authorities.

"There is a very close correlation with social class and I think there is an opportunity to look at the success of one of our programmes, which hasn't been much talked about - the Troubled Families programme is a huge success thanks to the work of Eric Pickles in the last parliament.

"We now have a direct line into 300,000 of the most underprivileged families in the country and there will be a much higher proportion of obese children in those families so I think there's an opportunity to really doing something."

A BBC spokesman said: "We already do much on healthy eating and physical activity for children and we're happy to discuss any ideas the secretary of state might have in this area."

Mr Hunt also told the fringe event: "I think we haven't as a country thought hard enough about what it is we really want from the NHS.

"The founding vision, (Aneurin) Bevan had a quote which I don't think is much used but he said what he wanted to do with the NHS is universalise the best.

"So it's essentially a model about equity, it's about saying we as Conservatives, as Labour, as Brits want to live in a country where it doesn't matter who you are you have access to good healthcare. That is part of what defines us as British and we're all very proud we have an NHS and we have amazing NHS frontline staff who deliver that.

"But that equity is not just about being able to get to hospital and not pay a cheque, it's also about being able to have confidence that your local hospital is a good hospital."

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