The UK’s Department of Health (DoH) launched Change4Life on 3 January, with the first airing of TV, billboard and poster ads. The campaign is aimed at families with children under 12, and the TV ad, also available on YouTube, compares a cartoon stone-age family hunting for their food to a modern family playing video games.
The campaign is set to last for three years and has £75m (c €83m at today’s rates) of public funds behind it.
But the latest issue of The Lancet not only slams the ads as “simplistic”, but also says it “beggars belief that the government has decided to allow sponsorship by commercial companies in the order of £200m”. Companies are said to include PepsiCo and Kellogg’s.
It questions what the take-home message is of food company ads featuring sports personalities. “If you do exercise, it is OK to drink Pepsi and eat crisps?”
A spokesperson for PepsiCo’s declined to comment directly on the criticism, but said that the company is involved in two ways – and only with selected brands. The first is through sponsoring 'Breakfast4Life' breakfast clubs in deprived areas, in partnership with the NGO Magic Breakfast, with its Quaker and Tropicana brands.
The second is a scheme called ‘Play4Life’, which involves an advertising campaign underscoring the importance of physical exercise. It is not clear at the moment which of PepsiCo’s brands will support this, but it may be Gatoraid.
A spokesperson for the DoH said: "These companies are not sponsors - they are not giving us money. We are harnessing the power that they have with consumers to promote healthy living.
"Every company has to sign up to strict terms of engagement before they join us. Every company must help people to eat more healthily and be more active.
"Change4Life aims to help influence and shift behaviours around diet and physical activity. Many organisations have influence with and can reach our target audiences in ways that we cannot. By working with these organisations, we can more effectively tackle the obesity epidemic.
This is not the first time in recent months that sponsorship by food companies has been a matter of fierce debate.
In October the news that Cadbury, a British company best known for its chocolate brands, is an official sponsor of the 2012 London Olympic Games drew a reaction from health campaigners.
Tam Fry, a board-member of medical charity the National Obesity Forum, told FoodNavigator.com at the time that the organisation is “disappointed that the London games have gone to Cadbury, because sport and chocolate don’t mix”.
While he added that he has nothing against chocolate per se, and especially dark chocolate, in moderation, he is “most concerned at the message this gives to the young and impressionable”.
“We can’t understand why the government can’t go to other organisations. There must be others that are less contentious.”
“Cadbury and McDonald’s [another Olympic sponsor] are more likely to do damage or contribute to obesity”.
FoodNavigator would like to know what you think. Should food companies that make unhealthy be eligible to sponsor health and sporting initiatives?
Send your comments of no more than 100 words to jess.halliday 'at' decisionnews.com, putting ‘Sponsorship, obesity' in the subject line.
Please note that comments will be taken to be 'on the record'. Comments published will include the sender's name and affiliated company/organisation.
The LancetVol 373 January 10 2009-01-09“Change4Life brought to you by PepsiCo”