Obesity marketing campaign 'cut'

By Nick Triggle
Health reporter, BBC News

image captionChange4Life was launched in January 2009

Government funding of the Change4Life public health campaign is to be withdrawn with the hope the private sector will step in, ministers say.

About £50m has been invested in it since the launch in January 2009 in a bid to tackle rising obesity rates.

The funds paid for TV ads and a range of marketing materials handed out by schools, hospitals and community halls.

But Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said he wanted to see business take on responsibility for the campaign.

He said it was in their interests to be associated with the brand and the move was part of a fresh approach to public health which would culminate in a new strategy at the end of the year.

Commercial companies selling foods such as chocolate, crisps and soft drinks did not want the public to see their products as "harmful" but as something that could be incorporated into healthy diets, he added.


But the step is another sign that the NHS is having to make cuts despite being one of just two departments to have a protected budget.

It comes after the government announced last month that free swimming was to be axed.

Mr Lansley said the health service "was not immune" from the debt crisis.

He said he had been "impressed" with what Change4Life had achieved, but it was now the right time for a new approach.

Nearly nine in 10 mothers say they recognise the brand, according to latest surveys, after nearly half of school, hospitals, GPs and community halls handed out literature giving advice about how people could adopt healthier lives.

It also led to a number of spin-off sub-brands, such as Bike4Life and Walk4Life, which were used by local schemes to get people active.

But he said after "pump-priming" the brand, it was now the right time to look for others to come forward to support it.

In particular, he said businesses which have tended to rely on in-kind payments should provide direct investment.

"We will be scaling back on public money."

Mr Lansley also said, in a speech to public health doctors in London, that he wanted to see more of a focus on changing behaviour than the "lecturing" attitude that characterised some of the previous government's interventions.

He said people needed "nudging" without being told what to do.

"For too long our approach to public health has been fragmented, overly complex and sadly ineffective."

Instead, he wanted to "empower people" and "build self-esteem", adding that social media could be a useful tool in harnessing peer pressure.

He also addressed comments he made last week about Jamie Oliver.

He was reported as criticising the school meals campaign the TV chef led, but he told the Faculty of Public Health conference it was the government response that was at fault for being too bureaucratic rather than Mr Oliver's approach.

Professor Alan Maryon-Davis, president of the Faculty of Public Health, welcomed the vision, saying public health chiefs were keen to meet the challenge.

"These are challenging times - how to get more with less. But it is an opportunity too. We have to make the case for the cost-effectiveness of public health and preventing ill health."

But Tam Fry, of the National Obesity Forum, said he was "horror-struck" about the thought of getting industry involved in funding Change4Life.

He said it was "nothing other than a bare-faced request to bail out a cash-starved Department of Health campaign".

"The quid pro quo is that the department gives industry an assurance that there will be no regulation or legislation over its activities."

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