The UK’s DoH should have waited to launch its new anti-obesity initiative until the economic situation has improved, as many small food businesses are already busy enough coping with the recession, according to the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).
The Department of Health’s (DoH) Change4Life programme, which was announced on Monday by Health Secretary Alan Johnson, is an “unusual request” at a time when many companies are “just trying to stay afloat”, according to Stephen Alambritis of the FSB.
While he applauded the campaign in principle, Alambritis said that this is not going to be a top priority for anyone but the largest companies who have the resources to get involved.
“We are not downgrading the initiative,” he said. “But small employers are going to put it to one side… They are concentrating on getting through these difficult times.”
Small business owner Graham Tonkin told FoodNavigator.com that the campaign was admirable but that businesses in the food industry are facing enough difficulties as it is.
His company, GT foods, based in Cambridgeshire, offers home food delivery and he says that his suppliers are already suffering from a drop in sales.
Rather than putting even more pressure on businesses, he said, the government should concentrate on the packaging issue, ensuring that nutritional information is clearly labelled so that consumers understand what they are eating.
67 per cent of men and 56 per cent of women in the UK were classified as obese or overweight in 2006. Almost 30 per cent of children under the age of 16 are obese or overweight.
Terms of engagement
According to the terms of engagement of the Change4Life campaign, a company must develop “genuinely new and incremental activity” to influence the eating and lifestyle habits of the campaign’s target audience.
Almost 12,500 organisations have signed up to be partners in the Change4Life campaign, which aims to inform parents of how best to educate their children about the benefits of a healthy lifestyle in order to stem the growing obesity crisis.
However, publicised pledges from food companies so far appear to be from the big players.
Supermarket giants Tesco and Asda are running promotions encouraging healthier eating and a healthier lifestyle in general amongst their customers and staff. Cereal manufacturer Kellogg’s will invest £300,000 over the next three years to expand its Breakfast Clubs programme, which aims to encourage young people to eat a healthy breakfast, and another £240,000 a year supporting the Swim4Life programme.
The DoH is hoping to recruit more partners through a coalition with the Advertising Associaton, which is spearheading Business4Life, a consortium which will contribute over £200m in kind to the campaign over the next four years.
Baroness Peta Buscombe, chief executive of the Advertising Association, highlighted the fact that Business4Life partners include both small and large companies.
“Businesses of all sizes have an important role to play in helping the government combat obesity in the UK,” she told FoodNavigator.com. “…While some companies will be pledging significant levels of support for major Change4Life initiatives, there are many other members of Business4Life who cannot make the same level of commitment, but who will be offering their expertise in marketing, branding and communications as their way of contributing to the movement.”
The FDF is similarly positive. A spokesperson told FoodNavigator.com: “Given our industry’s strong focus on health in recent years, the Food and Drink Federation sees the Change4Life campaign as an opportunity for food businesses of all sizes – big and small – to get involved.”