Last week, Teresa May unveiled her latest strategy to tackle childhood obesity. Why? Well Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of the NHS, has described obesity as “the new smoking”; Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has labelled childhood obesity a “national emergency”; and our government’s Chief Medical Officer, Sally Davies, has called on the government to include obesity in its national risk planning alongside terrorism. This is far from an over reaction: poor diet is the nation’s biggest premature killer, , and costs the NHS around £6bn a year.

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Considering the statistics, May’s watered down approach to how to tackle the problem has come as a bit of shock to lobbyists who think that the plan is incredibly skewed to the corporations who profit from our bad diets and eating habits.

  • May’s plan asks the food and drink industry to cut 5% of the sugar in products popular with children over the next year.
  • It says the ultimate target is a 20% sugar cut, with Public Health England monitoring voluntary progress over the next four years.
  • The plan also calls on primary schools to deliver at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day and to help parents and carers ensure children get the same amount at home.

Since the fitness industry is always claiming that you can’t “outtrain a crap diet” – the last point seems completely useless for a start so it already seems doomed for failure.

In a previous post, I spoke about how the obesity communication strategy has been so unsuccessful and suggested how the NHS can promote the benefits of a healthy body rather than scaremongering around an unhealthy body. In this post, I’m looking more specifically about how the junk food industry is getting away with making our children fat and hooking them on sugar. Could these tactics be used to promote a healthy diet instead?

Sponsorship of Sporting Events

Once again, the Olympics was sponsored by the junk food industry. Kellogg’s Games-related marketing promoting high-sugar, less healthy products (seriously, give up with Special K! We all know its crap!); Coca-Cola’s global #thatsgold ad giving twice as much screen time to red, full-sugar Coke as to Coke Life and Coke Zero Sugar combined; and Brazilian flag-coloured M&M’s and other sugary products which associate themselves with the Games – it has been the norm to see this huge conflict of interest at sporting events. The worst is when athletes pose with the products implying that they eat it when in reality, they probably have a very protein rich diet in order to keep their muscles fed through their rigorous training plans.

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Why doesn’t the government “sponsor” the games by promoting healthy foods. Aldi pioneered a great Olympic campaign for Rio 2016 – encouraging healthy eating and activity at an affordable price. It would be great to see this trend continued in years to come.

Branding

I saw a great case study a few years back on how an agency rebranded baby carrots as junk food – giving them brightly coloured packaging and even setting them up in vending machines. This instantly makes the carrot more accessible – rather than a grubby root vegetable grown on some distant farm, Baby Carrots seems less alien. This campaign truly understands its audience and entertains them, rather than emotionally blackmailing them with the tired “5 a day” nag or sight of a flat stomach”.

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Could supermarkets potentially start rolling out better packaging across their produce (it’s all in plastic anyway!)

Marketers need to step back and see what works in the junk food industry and apply to the healthy foods industry. Although healthy foods are not typically run by evil corporations so don’t have access to the budgets, more and more are starting their own communications strategies such as The Potato Council, Olives from Spain and Lion Eggs. Government funding to help boost their budgets could massively help spread the word.

Pricing and Promotion

Of course, the real issue with junkfood is that it’s cheap! A junk filled trolley is significantly less than one which contains lean meats, healthy fats and vegetables. Although parents should be asking “why is junkfood so cheap?” rather than “why is healthy food so expensive?” – it is a difficult hurdle to pass.

The only real thing that can be done is reduce the amount of promotions a junkfood firm is allowed to run. This is where supermarkets need to come together and take on their social responsibility to provide the country with healthy diets and ideologies. A busy parent grabbing one multipack of crisps rather than two because its on offer is surely a great start.

Teach people to cook

It was fun learning to cook pizza and cake in home economics but in hindsight, is that useful?? Teaching children to prepare a variety of meals with fresh produce can be a great start in helping them learn to cook. Stir frys for example? I live on them and they literally take 10 mins to prepare.

Influencers can also help with short videos on Instagram or Snapchat to show how quickly it actually takes to prepare a healthy meal as well as advise on shopping lists etc. Many fitness influencers probably provide a bit too much info in regards to healthy eating by carb cycling and cutting out processed food but personalities who resonate more with C2 DE demographics can make healthy eating more accessible rather than reserved for the wealthy.

With social media and the internet more prominent than ever, there is a huge opportunity in getting our nation healthy again but the government needs to recognise that its campaigns are patronising, ineffective and archaic. Bringing in fresh talent and working on demographic targeting rather than scaremongering could produce an effective message in the long run.

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