Freedom’s 200m price tag

David%20Benady%20120x120Snack food and alcohol producers are about to discover the price of freedom. And it looks like there will be small change from £200m.

That is the sum pledged by the promoters of fatty, sugary and salty foods to support the biggest healthy living crusade in history.

The snack food industry plans to use its skills in marketing to promote new, active and healthy lifestyles, and help reduce the UK’s apparently frightening levels of obesity.

Companies, including Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, Mars and Nestlé, ITV and Channel 4, are all reaching into their pockets to help fund the Government’s health drive in the run-up to the London 2012 Olympics.

Their campaign – about which there are exasperatingly few details as yet – will tie into the Department of Health’s £75m “Change 4 Life” marketing onslaught against obesity. Ads will hit television screens early next year, though it is still unclear how the food and ad industry’s contribution will link into them.

Whether this £200m of largesse will save the junk food industry from ever-more draconian restrictions on their marketing activities is far from clear.

Alcohol producers, remember, have performed somersaults to prove they are responsible purveyors of booze. Yet these activities may not save them from the increasingly stringent restrictions on marketing. The University of Sheffield’s investigation into the relationship between price, promotion, advertising and problem boozing, commissioned by the

Department of Health, indicates likely Government action. The study, which published initial findings this week, says: increase the price and there will be less problem drinking. Ouch. Meanwhile increased advertising spend boosts demand for alcohol, surprise, surprise. Though, of course, ads have a tiny effect on consumption compared to price. These are not exactly astonishing findings but they are likely to influence Government policy on alcohol harm reduction

Surely the food industry’s £200m in support for health minister Alan Johnson’s biggest-ever health drive must buy them some brownie points? But whether it will save them from ever-harsher marketing restrictions will depend on how successful the campaigns are. Will they help reduce obesity levels?

It should be remembered that over the past two decades, sports and healthy living have become obsessions in the UK. Gymnasia have sprouted up across the country at an unprecedented rate, football mania has reached previously undreamt of levels and sporting “chic” is at an all-time high. Media are filled with health advice. Sports stars are the new celebrities, nudging out film stars and hard-living rock and rollers. Sports clothing dominates high street fashion. Nike has relentlessly told us to “just do it”, yet obesity has soared. So the idea that marketing campaigns can do much more to increase activity levels for certain groups and tackle obesity will take some proving.

Especially since health secretary Johnson has already shot one of social marketing’s most cunning foxes – fear.

Government responsibility campaigns have scored spectacular successes by splattering our TV screens with blood, gore, dead children, orphaned children, horrific hospital scenes, parents killed in car crashes and drunks falling off scaffolding. There’s nothing like presenting us with our darkest fears to encourage us to behave responsibly.

But Johnson has ruled out using such high-pressure threats in the fight against obesity. “Change4Life” will promote positive messages about the great benefits of healthy living. If that works, it really will be a change.

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