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New Campaign Encouraging Brits to 'Smart Swap' Healthier Food Criticized for Shortsightedness

Image credit: Public Health England

Last week, Public Health England unveiled its latest Change4Life campaign, which this year focuses on getting people throughout England and Wales to “Smart Swap” fatty or sugary foods for healthier alternatives.

The campaign recognizes that it’s unrealistic to expect people to immediately switch from chocolate to fruit, for example, so it is hoping to incentivize making smarter food choices by offering participants money-saving vouchers for healthier foods and drinks and in-store offers from partner retailers such as Asda, Co-operative Food, Lidl and Aldi.

Those that sign up also receive a free Smart Swapper pack of healthier meal ideas and fridge magnet and a free ‘Smart Recipes’ app, which can be downloaded from iTunes and GooglePlay.

Soft drinks, cheese, butter, sugary cereal and milk have been chosen as the focus areas for the drive. A 40-second TV spot highlights facts such as the amount of fat in pizza and sugar in soda.

The campaign has already sparked criticism from the Children's Food Campaign, an arm of the National Heart Alliance, which advocates against the marketing of foods high in fat, sugar and salt to children, which says Change4Life should be pushing for more fundamental changes in our food selection, both at the retail level and at the brand level.

“We welcome Change4Life’s continued focus on the hidden nasties in our food, in particular the added sugar in many of the drinks and cereals on supermarket shelves. But these good messages risk being undermined unless there is real change in what is sold and promoted to us in store,” said Children’s Food Campaign coordinator Malcolm Clark. “The supermarkets should be joining in the swapping: permanently replacing promotions on unhealthy products with those for healthier items.

“There is nothing smart about Public Health England partnering with the food industry without expecting more in return,” Clark continued. “Yet Nestlé, General Mills, Kellogg's, Coca-Cola and Dairy Crest - the manufacturers behind many of the sugary cereals, sugary drinks and high-fat cheeses and butter that we are being told to swap away from - have refused to sign up to the new traffic light labelling scheme. And Asda, one of the supermarkets chosen to front up the Change4Life voucher scheme, ranks bottom of our list for making healthy choices easier in store.”

A number of similarly well-intentioned yet selectively targeted initiatives to promote healthier eating have elicited the same “elephant in the room” response in recent months: In March, Nestlé announced it will begin providing portion guidance on all children’s products by 2015 and label guideline daily amounts (GDA) on the front of pack on more products by 2016. And in May, Coca-Cola pledged to offer low or no-calorie beverage options in every market, provide transparent nutrition information on the front of all packages, and promote exercise in every country in which it operates; and in September, McDonald’s partnered with Alliance for a Healthier Generation to promote and increase access to healthier food options to help customers and employees to make informed dining choices. The fast-food giant went so far as to recommend that its employees steer clear of fast food for optimal health.

Jennifer Elks is Managing Editor at Sustainable Brands. She is a writer, editor and foodie who is passionate about improving food systems, closing loops and creating more livable cities. She loves cooking, wine, cooking with wine, correcting spelling errors in… [Read more about Jennifer Elks]

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