marketingmagazine.co.uk, Wednesday, 26 October 2011 12:00AM
As a Responsibility Deal partner, we know the coalition favours "nudging" over regulation, and this approach is consistent with that strategy.
The headline recommendation – eat less, exercise more – may seem simplistic, because the importance of balancing "calories in" and "calories out" is not new. The announcement also included a "call to action" for businesses to help reduce calorie consumption, which is where we come in.
As part of our strategy to offer "value with values", we aim to provide our customers with balanced choices.
We now give guests access to a free unlimited salad with every meal to help them on their way to five-a-day.
We list calories on our menu, and we've recently launched Pizzetta, a range of lighter pizzas, each under 500 calories.
We want to allow our diners to make informed choices, but change also needs to happen on a macro level.
We will continue to work with the government to support initiatives that help improve the nation's health, and urge the rest of the food industry to do the same.
The plan aims to reduce calories consumed by 4% to 5% by 2020. It's a move in the right direction, but it is unlikely (though not impossible) to achieve the target. What's good is that it includes product reformulation, portion control, a link to alcohol harm-reduction, and a relaunched Change4Life programme covering physical activity as well as diet.
At last we're moving on from "does advertising affect diet?" (The answer: "Yes, but very little.")
Two things are still missing. First, the plan involves minimal public investment. Second, there's still not enough emphasis on the big, long-term issues, such as improving children's food preference formation and school meals.
This is partly because the medical establishment still tends to throw all its scientific training out of the window in any policy discussion involving advertising and marketing.
What's needed is a joined-up, evidence-based strategy that draws on behavioural research and focuses on the long-term drivers of obesity.
The essence of the obesity problem is the balance of calories in and out. So calorie reduction has to be part of the solution, but must be balanced with calories out to have the quantum effect needed to crack the problem.
Five billion is a big number in any currency. For it to be deliverable, it has to be meaningful at an individual level. It has to make healthy choices easier, a balanced diet affordable and an active lifestyle habitual.
Brands are perfectly placed to support this change with the formulation, trust and communication expertise to balance the 'energy in, energy out' challenges of modern life. Significant progress has already been made on product reformulation, labelling and portion size. Exercise initiatives need the same momentum.
One of my clients is fond of saying that strategy is nine parts execution. The success of the obesity strategy rests entirely on the quality of the collaboration, education and facilitation required to deliver the execution. We are all stakeholders in this.
Whatever happens in the good old US of A happens here – music, food, slang, gangs, films and especially fast food.
Nowadays it has become increasingly acceptable to be overweight, despite what President Obama tells his citizens.
In the past in poor old Blighty, being obese was bad. Chubby kids at school were laughed at while adults and experts talked about rationing and about moderation in all things.
That's all a dim and distant memory. Obesity is normal in the UK, as it is across the pond. People might argue that this is a sign of a tolerant society and they'd be right, but while we might have imported the US' relaxed attitudes, our manufacturing and retail sector is too fiercely independent to make this strategy work.
If there's a market for the healthy stuff, brands will make it, but if people want unhealthy stuff, they will make that too. A five billion calorie reduction? Like all diets, for most of us it is a lovely thought, but, ultimately, a pipe dream.
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