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Last Updated: Friday, 28 May, 2004, 08:25 GMT 09:25 UK
Minister slams obesity 'hysteria'
Kim Howells
Howells: Individuals have a responsibility
A minister has warned against "hysteria" following a report on the government's failure to tackle obesity.

Kim Howells said a chocolate bar "once a week" would not harm anyone.

His comments come after Commons leader Peter Hain described a government-backed scheme devised by chocolate company Cadbury as "indefensible".

Under the scheme, launched last year but later dropped, students could exchange chocolate wrappers for sports equipment for their schools.

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To get a football net, a total of 5,440 wrappers were required.

Ever since Monty Python's Ministry of Funny Walks it has been seen as the epitome of the nanny state
Kim Howells on 'walking strategies'
The scheme, which was backed by Sports Minister Richard Caborn, was seen to be encouraging children to buy large amounts of chocolate.

Mr Hain said the decision by the sports minister to support the idea was, in retrospect, wrong.

He said the prevention of childhood obesity demanded a balance between action from the government and parents, and regulation of aggressive advertising.

Obesity 'timebomb'

A Commons health select committee report, published on Thursday, said improving children's eating habits was the key to tackling an obesity "timebomb".

MPs attacked the government, food industry and advertisers for failing to act to stop rising levels of obesity.

But Transport Minister Kim Howells warned the problem should be kept in perspective.

He said he was not personally in favour of initiatives such as the Cadbury's schools scheme, but he said he knew where Mr Caborn had been coming from.

"A chocolate bar once a week is not going to wreak havoc on anybody's health, especially if they are taking more exercise," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"But I think all things in moderation. Let's have a good balanced diet and a good balanced attitude towards these things.

"I think this kind of hysteria helps no one."

Walking 'rethink'

Dr Howells also admitted the fear of ridicule had been "an element" in the government's failure to develop the long called-for walking strategy to make it easier for people to get around towns by foot.

"Ever since Monty Python's Ministry of Funny Walks it has been seen as the epitome of the nanny state," he said.

However, rethinks had been under way and new plans will be published in June, said the minister.

He argued society had to change its attitudes but "as individuals, people have a responsibility to look after themselves and their own health."

The MPs' report, published on Thursday, called for measures such as cookery lessons and a voluntary ban by the food industry on TV junk food ads.

When asked if he would ban adverts targeting children, Health Secretary John Reid said he wouldn't rule anything out or in.




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