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Obesity plan could cost shoppers dear

Health group says voucher scheme, Change4Life, would mean spending five times more than people would get in discounts

Shoppers would need to spend more than five times the amount they would get back in discounts under the latest phase of a controversial voucher scheme which is a pillar of the government’s anti-obesity campaign, a children’s health group warns today.

The Children’s Food Campaign (CFC) accuses the Department of Health of failing to take the national obesity crisis seriously, after revealing that in order to make the full £50 of savings advertised in the Change4Life‘s voucher booklet, shoppers would have to spend at least £275.08 – of which £155.59 must be spent at supermarket giant Asda.

It criticised the scheme as a marketing opportunity “offering little benefit” to consumers’ pockets or health.

In the latest phase of the Change4Life initiative – backed by the DH – 5m voucher books are being offered via the internet, in newspapers, in Asda branches and at Sure Start childcare centres.

The Really Big Summer Adventure voucher book aims to encourage shoppers to switch to healthier foods at lower cost. But the researchers also point out that in several cases it would be cheaper to buy a non-branded version of the same product without the corresponding discount voucher. For example, a 500g box of Kellogg’s corn flakes are £1.89 at Asda, reduced to £1.49 with the discount voucher, while 500g Asda corn flakes cost just £1.18.

The three-year, £250m Change4Life initiative was launched by Labour in 2009, but has been mired in controversy ever since. Last year the coalition government said it was axing its £75m advertising budget and would invite the food and drink industry – including major players such as Kellogg’s and Nestlé – to help promote it.

In July, a coalition of 30 organisations concerned with children’s health wrote to the health secretary, Andrew Lansley, raising concerns about plans to increase the involvement of food companies in the Change4Life campaign.

Kawther Hashem of the CFC said: “Once again we see the Change4Life campaign being usurped as a marketing opportunity for the companies involved, offering little benefit to consumers’ pockets or health. We back doctors’ calls for tougher government action on obesity by protecting children from junk food ads and promoting traffic-light labelling.”

Hashem continued: “While (unhealthy) products like mayonnaise continue to be promoted by the Change4Life vouchers scheme, it is difficult to see that the Department of Health is taking the obesity crisis seriously.” © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds