Obesity is a serious concern for the United Kingdom, with as much as two-thirds of men and almost as many women now being overweight, according to an NHS report.
In England 24% of men and 26% of women are obese, while 65% of men and 58% of women are either overweight or obese. These figures are worrying given that in 1993, when the first study was carried out, only 13% of men and 16% of women were classed as obese.
Recognizing this the Government have launched a new TV campaign under their Change4Life scheme, highlighting the levels of sugar, fat and salt in everyday foods.
Having been heavily criticised by many in the health sector for not implementing a compulsory and simple uniform labelling system in the past, the government has finally won agreement from major supermarkets to introduce a ‘traffic light system’ of labelling on a voluntary basis this year.
The aim is to make it much easier for consumers to quickly tell the fat, salt, sugar, saturated fat and calorie content of particular foods from the colour used.
But do campaigns like these really work? ‘Food and Beverage News’ decided to investigate these questions.
In a study conducted by Professor Nick Finer of the Royal College of Physicians showed that in France similar measures led a drop of 2.6% in overweight children from 2000 to 2007.
So clearly there is a potential of success and recent signs have shown that the public are on board with such initiatives. In a survey published by the Food Standards Agency (FSA), Two-thirds of the British public say it is “important” that genetically modified ingredients are labelled on food.
Dan Einzig, of the design agency Mystery, believes that brands must embrace the campaign or risk losing out:
“There’s no doubt in my mind that campaigns like this are indicative of the movement for consumers becoming more health aware and more health concerned. Brands that ignore this vital evolution will suffer in the long term whilst this also creates an opportunity for new brands to lead the way, grow exponentially and take market share.”
Some experts though believe that shocking the consumer isn’t the most effective way forward. Shaun Bowen of B&B Studio had this to say:
“The advertising campaign for Change4Life uses shock tactics to focus our attention on the hidden nasties in our favourite foods. But making unhealthy foods look bad is easy – the vital task is making healthy foods look desirable and delicious, and that’s where the packaging industry comes in.”
He continues by saying, “At B&B, we’ve been lucky enough to work with a large proportion of healthy, natural brands, and it’s our business to make them more appealing to consumers than the ‘bad for you’ alternatives. For us, building love and loyalty for healthy brands through brilliant strategic and creative work will always be the best way to change consumer behaviour over the long term. Campaigns can give consumers pause for thought, but at the supermarket shelf decisions are made with the heart as much as the head, so engaging, accessible branding is a must-have for the ‘better for you’ brand.”
A small survey conducted by ‘Food and Beverage News’ amongst 25-30 year old single working professional, seemed to support Shaun’s point of view.
When asked if warning labels on products affect their decision in purchasing them, majority of them said no. Maria Koutroumpa, who is a 26-year-old market researcher, explained:
“Initiatives like these have been ever present in products such as cigarettes. But if I want a cigarette, I will go and get one regardless.”
No matter what the course of action, it is clear that something needs to be done.
The Department of Health found that despite most people wanting to improve their health, the majority had no idea about the level of “hidden nasties” in their meals.
With that in mind Dan Einzig believes that Change4Life is a small start to a long-term solution:
“This campaign is just one part of a larger picture in society, which is underpinning people’s interest and education in what they eat and drink. Rather than a trend (which somehow suggests it might be short lived) I see this as more of a cultural evolution or on-going long-term change.”
By Mahir Prasad
(M Prasad is Sr. Journalist and Features Editor at fandbnews.com)