A government advertising campaign launched on Monday exposing the “hidden nasties” in everyday foods and urging people to be “food smart” may be ineffective in tackling Britain’s dietary health crisis, campaigners say.
The prime-time TV adverts using animation by Aardman, the creators of Wallace and Gromit, reveal that a bottle of cola contains 17 sugar cubes and a large pizza is made up of more than a wine glass of fat.
The ‘Be Food Smart’ initiative, part of the NHS Change4Life campaign, aims to fight the nation’s rising obesity problem by offering people nutritious food discount vouchers and free recipes for healthy low-cost meals.
The Department of Health (DoH) director of marketing, Sheila Mitchell, said in a statement, the campaign is a first-time initiative between the government, ITV, retailers, and the food industry.
“We have worked closely with partner organisations including ASDA fresh fish and Uncle Ben’s rice to highlight how easy it is to eat well on a budget.” Mitchell said. “The takeover closes with a reminder to sign up to Change4life to receive a free meal mixer.”
Healthy food campaigners doubt, however, the ad will jolt viewers into discarding junk food from their diet.
“We’re all in favour of campaigns that are more hard-hitting,” says Charlie Powell, director of Children’s Food Campaign (CFC). “Probably using plasticine models isn’t the most shocking way the Department of Health could have gone about it.”
“I’m reminded about a poster the British Heart Foundation had where the strapline was ‘what goes into crisps goes into you’ with a woman drinking cooking oil straight from the bottle. That is shocking,” he says.
CFC is committed to ensuring companies market only healthy food to children and Powell hopes the DoH campaign “isn’t just a flash-in-the-pan bit of public health marketing.” He says the 2011 Change4Life voucher scheme was haphazard: consumers had to spend £275 to get a £50 discount; and supermarket own brands were cheaper even after the discounts.
“There were healthier products that could have been promoted than one’s on the vouchers. They seem to be a marketing tool for the companies involved,” Powell says.
CFC is calling for a holistic approach: incentives to consumers and the regulation of industry to reformulate food products so they are not high in “nasties”, i.e. fat, sugar and salt.
“What are these “nasties” doing in the food in the first place in such high quantities? Who’s responsible for putting them there? The food industry,” Powell says.
He criticises the government’s approach with the food industry. Voluntary initiatives with measurable outcomes agreed with the industry “are often ineffective.”
“You need to curb the promotion of junk foods. I don’t have any confidence at all that is happening.”
Powell argues that supermarkets should be regulated to stop offering shoppers tempting discount promotions on foods such as chocolates, crisps, biscuits, and high-salt ready meals.
CFC believes to really address the problem of poor eating habits the government needs to start educating children at school with compulsory cooking lessons so that every child is able to cook a healthy meal from fresh ingredients.
“Unfortunately we have a whole generation who are not well enough equipped to cook from fresh ingredients on a daily basis,” Powell says.
The British Heart Foundation (BHF) charity is also concerned the ‘Be Food Smart’ may be a short-lived plan.
“If we’re to lessen the heavy burden of obesity, this campaign must provide the spark for a continued, joined-up approach to the promotion of healthy eating and physical activity across the UK,” said Victoria Taylor, senior dietitian at BHF, in a statement.
“What we see on TV, the labels on packaging, and the way we learn about food and cooking all play their part and can make a healthy difference to our diets,” she said..
Only ASDA, ALDI and the Co-Operative Food stores are taking part in the Change4Life campaign
Alarming government figures show that England has one of the highest rates of obesity in Europe with over 60 per cent of adults and a third of 10 and 11-year-olds overweight or obese.
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