Change4Life overhaul splits opinion

The Government’s decision to ask the food and drink industry to help pay for the Change4Life anti-obesity initiative in exchange for no new regulation has been slammed as “totally unacceptable” by health charities, which predict that businesses will drag their feet on promoting health.

Change4Life

However, the advertising, food and drinks industry claim that the new approach will “empower” consumers to make healthier choices and that a top down regulatory approach does not work.

Yesterday (7 July) health secretary Andrew Lansley said he would press the industry to provide funding towards Change4Life as the coalition government looks at ways to meet its commitment to slash marketing spend. He added that in return there would no clampdown on foods high in fat, salt and sugar that were deemed unhealthy by some.

However, the decision has been challenged by charities, which question the food and drink industries’ commitment to promoting healthy lifestyles.

Betty McBride, director of policy and communications at the British Heart Foundation, says: “We wait with bated breath for the fast food merchants, chocolate bar makers and fizzy drink vendors to beat a path to the public health door.

“Meanwhile, parents and children continue to be faced with the bewildering kaleidoscope of confusing food labels and pre-watershed junk food adverts.”

Tam Fry, board member of the National Obesity Forum, says it is “horror struck” by the decision, claiming the food and drink industry has done “nothing terribly significant” in the last decade and is likely to do even less without the threat of regulation.

However, Ian Barber, director of communications at the Advertising Association, which manages the industry’s support for Change4Life through Business4Life, says the changes will “empower people”.

“This is about helping people choose what’s best for them, rather than telling people what to do. Business4Life has shown that companies can be at the forefront of promoting positive societal change,” he adds.

Business4Life, which counts Tesco, Danone and Cadbury, is understood to be set for a PR relaunch to maximise opportunities under the new regime.

Brands are now expected to boost their marketing support across media over the next six months. Campaign sub-brands such as Swim4Life and Breakfast4Life, supported by Kellogg, and Play4Life, supported by Cadbury, will become much more visible as a result.

Julian Hunt, director of communications for the Food and Drink Federation, backed Lansley, adding that obesity is best tackled by “through a shared social responsibility and not state regulation.”

“We believe our members have already shown that they can make a real difference to the public health agenda – through our work on clearer nutrition information, product reformulation and workplace wellbeing – and we are keen to work in partnership with the Secretary of State and his colleagues to build on that work”.

The future of Change4Life as it was had been in doubt following the government’s vow to cut advertising spend and implement strict criteria that any department spending more than £25,000 had to meet. A recent Cabinet Office document stated that public health campaigns costing more than that amount had to provide “unequivocal evidence” that they delivered “measurable benefits relating directly to immediate public health and safety”.

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