UK Government works with food industry to fight obesity, regulation threatened if plan unsuccessful

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 6th January 2009

The British Government is working with supermarkets, retailers and food manufacturers in an endeavour to “kick-start a lifestyle revolution” and halt rising obesity rates.

A report for the government suggested that, without any intervention, 90 per cent of today’s children will be overweight or obese by 2050. This has ensured the creation of their “Change4Life” initiative.

Under the Change4Life banner, the Government is galvanising support from everyone in the country from grass roots organisations to leading supermarkets and charities.

The scheme, which begins with an extensive advertising campaign, will help families to understand the harm that fat can cause to their children’s health. It warns that a bad diet and inactive lifestyle can lead to cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

“Change4Life has a critical ambition. We are trying to create a lifestyle revolution on a huge scale – something which no Government has attempted before,” Public Health Minister Dawn Primarolo said. “The extent of the obesity problem demands an ambitious and innovative approach that has not been tried before. We have adopted ideas from successful movements such as Make Poverty History and Comic Relief which involves a wide range of partners, local organisations, commercial companies, charities and, of course, millions of people.”

“Change4Life is supportive, informative and reassuring – it’s not about telling families what to do and what to eat. We want families to engage with the campaign and understand that obesity is not someone else’s problem – it’s all of our problem,” Minister Primarolo added.

Included amongst the supporters are a host of prominent food companies in the UK:

* Unilever is supporting the Change4Life campaign, through its Flora brand and its sponsorship of the London Marathon. The marathon route will be branded with Change4Life, and runners and visitors will be given Change4Life handouts.
* The Co-operative Group, the UK’s largest mutual retailer, has pledged its support to the Change4Life movement by offering to communicate the key campaign messages through its nationwide network of 2,200 food stores and 800 pharmacy branches.
* In March Kelloggs will expand its breakfast clubs and announce Britain’s best breakfast clubs, along with co-branding their swim activities with Swim4Life in January and February.
* The National Convenience Stores will expand their fruit and veg pilot in the North-East across England with a total of 120 stores by May 2009.
* PepsiCo UK will run an ad campaign to promote the benefits of active play using well-known sportsmen and women who can serve as role models.
* In August ASDA will be undertaking a major flagship event – Bike4Life – to raise awareness of cycling as an activity that all the family can do.
* Tesco will promote the Change4Life message in store, on its website and run themed price promotions in store.

In all, 35 food, supermarket, fitness and advertising companies are contributing sponsorship worth £200 million to the campaign, on which the government is spending £75m.Visitors to the Change4Life website will be able to do a postcode search to find local services such as cookery clubs, after-school activities and sporting facilities in their local areas. In total there will be in the region of 45,000 relevant contacts in England.It is initially set to be a three-year campaign, with a failure of the scheme expected to lead to a host of regulatory changes – impacting on the food sector. The initiative is symbolic of the wave of concern around the Western World with regard to obesity, with legislation changes and codes of conduct being introduced to help deal with the issue.

In Australia, the National Preventative Health Taskforce continues to work towards the release of a National Obesity Strategy – likely to be in place by the middle of the year.