Public Health England tackles ‘snackification’ of lunchboxes with new campaign

The Government body is honing in on snacking and smoking as part of its New Year campaigns, and is offering parents money off to tempt them into buying healthier snacks.

Public Health England (PHE) is looking to encourage parents to help their children eat healthier snacks and snack less often as part of its annual New Year health campaign.

The £4.5m Change4Life campaign is focusing on snacking for the first time. It aims to encourage parents to help their children eat healthier snacks by following the mantra “Look for 100 calorie snacks, two a day max”.

PHE research shows that half of UK children’s sugar intake comes from unhealthy snacks and sugary drinks. On average, children are consuming at least three unhealthy snacks and sugary drinks a day, with around a third consuming four or more.

PHE claims there has been a “snackification” of children’s lunch boxes, with children eating more between meals and lunch just becoming “a collection of unhealthy snacks”. While sugar remains the main evil, the Government body hopes this fresh approach will catch people’s attention.

“Sugar is still the big issue we’re talking to parents about. We’ve focused on sugar for the past couple of years, so you have to find new ways into the sugar debate. You can’t just keep saying the same things like there’s too much sugar in their children’s diets. Public health messages can become wallpaper if you say the same thing,” Sheila Mitchell, marketing director at PHE, tells Marketing Week.

To encourage more parents to use healthier snacks, they will be given special offers on items including fruit and vegetables at selected supermarkets. Money-off vouchers are available to help them try healthier snack options, including malt loaf, lower sugar fromage frais, and drinks with no added sugar.

PHE is also offering consumers money off toothbrushes in order to battle tooth decay, which is a growing problem among children.

We’ve focused on sugar for the past couple of years, so you have to find new ways into the sugar debate. Public health messages can become wallpaper if you say the same thing.

Sheila Mitchell, PHE

The campaign will include a new TV ad that features its existing Change4Life characters. There will also be radio and digital ads plus social media and outdoor advertising, the latter appearing outside supermarkets to remind parents of the ‘two snacks a day’ mantra.

Additionally, 3.6 million leaflets will be made available to families via primary schools and experiential roadshows will take place from January to March. An additional campaign aimed at encouraging adult consumers to stop snacking will commence in March.

The Change4Life programme has been running since 2009. When asked if the initiative has led to long-term behavioural change, Mitchell said “that’s the $100,000 question”. While it’s hard to show “an absolute line of sight” from a piece of communication to child obesity becoming lower, she believes the engagement levels have been positive so far.

The ‘Be Food Smart’ and ‘Sugar Smart’ apps, which are part of the Change4 Life campaign, have been downloaded more than three million times to-date. Meanwhile, consumer measures in terms of brand trust, brand likeability and brand understanding are in the “high 80s if not 90s”. More than 200 organisations have provided £81.6m worth of in-kind support for the programme since its inception.

Triggering a ‘Pavlovian’ response to smoking

Alongside the campaign to tackle unhealthy snacking, PHE is also focusing on reducing the number of smokers. Smoking kills 79,000 people in England and for every death another 20 smokers have a smoking-related disease.

The ‘Smokefree Health Harms’ campaign, which launched on 29 December, highlights how chemicals from tar in cigarettes enter the blood stream and reach every major organ in seconds.

A new TV advert will visualise how these poisonous chemicals travel around the body and digital content will help launch the campaign. It will involve a group of lifelong smokers, including TV presenter and entrepreneur Hilary Devey, taking part in a laboratory demonstration to show how smoking has led to the presence of harmful poisons in their blood.

The campaign also offers free quitting support, including the Smokefree App, email and SMS support, a Facebook Messenger bot and information on where smokers can get face to face support.

Mitchell concludes: “You can’t talk about horrible deaths in the future, as people dismiss it. We created black tar running through the veins when someone is smoking. It’s about visibly seeing what it’s doing to different parts of your body. Some people have asked us if this marks the return of shock advertising, but it’s not shock – it’s about triggering Pavlovian disgust.”