Government adverts back healthy eating

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Media captionThe ads have been made by the creators of Wallace and Gromit

Government-backed TV adverts to promote healthier eating habits in England are to be shown for the first time later.

Food firms are also involved in the latest phase of the Change4Life scheme and their products are being sold at reduced prices in several supermarkets.

The adverts have been made by Aardman, the creators of Wallace and Gromit.

Critics suggest the main beneficiaries of the campaign against "hidden nasties" such fat and sugar in popular foods will be the companies themselves.

Obesity costs the NHS £5bn each year and the latest figures from the Department of Health show that the number of children who are overweight or obese doubles during their time at primary school.

By signing up to Change4Life online, families will receive a compilation of healthy recipes including turkey stir fry and vegetarian chilli, with ideas for daily menus.

'Healthier choices'

They will also be able to access offers on food products at more than 1,000 Asda, Aldi and the Co-Operative food stores across the country.

Public Health Minister Anna Soubry said: "Thanks to the continuing success of Change4Life, a million mums have changed their behaviour.

"But England has one of the highest rates of obesity in Europe with over 60% of adults and a third of 10 and 11 year olds overweight or obese.

"We want to make it easy for everyone to keep track of what they eat and make healthier choices. That is why we are also developing a simple and clear system for front of pack labelling that everyone can use."

The campaign includes a TV advertising break during Coronation Street on ITV1 featuring advice on healthy eating from some of the companies involved in the campaign.

Jeanette Longfield, children's food campaigner from Sustain, said she was "very disappointed" that the government had opted for a voluntary approach "that never works".

She added: "Good companies continue to do good things while bad companies continue doing bad things, and no one can stop them.

"What we really need is a legal level playing field so all companies have to do the right thing.

"For example, stop targeting children with marketing for junk food."

Diane Abbott, shadow public health minister, said the big winners from the initiative would be the companies and not families.

"The coalition government is pretending to take action on healthy eating. But the real beneficiaries will be supermarkets and the food industry."

'Root causes'

But Catherine Collins, principal dietician at St George's Hospital in London, maintained the campaign would do some good.

"This new campaign offers interest and advice on foods that can help make a healthy diet, whilst recognising not everybody has the time or resources to make meals from scratch.

"As long as food manufacturers don't exploit the 'health halo' effect of the targeted healthy products to encourage sales of less healthy foods and drink, it's a win-win situation for both public and producers."

Dr John Middleton, vice president of the Faculty of Public Health, said: "While in principle we welcome efforts by manufacturers to offer discounts on healthy products, we know that some families fill up on cheap, unhealthy food that could be produced more healthily if companies chose to do so.

"We all need to work together to tackle the root causes of obesity, not just the symptoms that are easy to treat."

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