Lansley:’Brands must do more to tackle obesity’

The Government has called on the food and drink industry to help reduce calorie intake, a move that comes as it unveils a revamped marketing strategy for its anti-obesity initiative Change4Life that includes a “radical step-change” in the amount of activity funded by brands.

Health secretary Andrew Lansley wants the food and drink industry “to extend and intensify their efforts to help people make healthier choices” in a bid to slash five billion calories off the nation’s daily diet.

The “call to action” says that the food industry’s contribution could include: “Reformulation of products to make them less energy dense, portion control, and actions to encourage consumers to choose these products through a responsible balance of promotional activity.”

No statutory regulation to force companies to take action will be introduced, however, with the Government preferring the self-regulatory approach that has seen brands make pledges as part of their “responsibility deal” with Government. This platform will be used to discuss ways to reduce calories.

Terry Jones, director of communications at industry body the Food and Drink Federation, says the industry is “committed to continuing to work in partnership” with the Government and “to play our part in supporting people to achieve an appropriate calorie intake and a healthy lifestyle.” Earlier this week, Sainsbury’s chief executive Justin King said companies should take control of health campaigns because brands are trusted more than politicians.

Shadow public health minister Dianne Abbott, however, says that it is unlikely that “companies that spend billions of pounds every year peddling fizzy drinks and trans-fat-loaded food are seriously going to eat into their profits by trying to change the public’s eating habit”.

Plans were also unveiled for a “radical step-change” in the proportion of Change4Life that is funded by companies. The Department of Health, which runs Change4Life, has increasingly involved brands in promotion of the initiative, such as the “Great Swapathon” partnership with Asda and The Daily Mirror, since its marketing budget was cut when the coalition took office last year.

Guidelines have been changed to allow “partners” to promote a greater number of product categories. As a result, The DoH hopes that “in-kind contributions” will increase and “there may also be the potential for revenue from sponsorship sales.” Partners will also be encouraged to use their “marketing assets” including databases, to drive behaviour change. The DoH says it will spend £14m of its own money this year and next on the initiative.

Sheila Mitchell, marketing director at the DoH, hopes the new strategy will “inspire valued partners” to continue to invest in the Change4Life brand.

There was also a vow to increase investment in digital channels to promote Change4Life after admitting that other sites used by children were a “much more stimulating experience than the current Change4Life platform.”

The potential to increase the use of digital channels such as apps will also be considered, while Facebook will increasingly be used to “allow for more co-creation, interactivity, sharing and feedback.”

Alcohol-related activity that uses the Change4Life brand will also be “stepped up”. New campaigns that focus on the health harm of alcohol will be introduced.

Other plans include:

  • Using the 2012 Olympic Games to encourage physical activity.
  • Involving more than just one supermarket in next year’s “Great Swapathon”.
  • A co-branded LazyTown “intervention” that will be delivered via Sure Start Children’s Centres.

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