101.The Food and Drink Federation argue that information and education about making healthier choices have an important role to play:
We believe that it does … need a multi-layered, multi-pronged approach. That includes calorie reduction, public education, and much better understanding of nutrition and diet by the public, and it also includes a need for much more focus on physical exercise. People need to be aware, and to pay attention to the information they are given, and if we need to give them the information in a different way we should. But at the heart of a successful strategy for combating obesity will be this multi-pronged approach, including a real understanding of the need for calories in, calories out.
102.However, other witnesses challenged this view:
Education on its own, we know, despite what industry may say, is not going to get us where we need to be in the significant sugar and calorie reduction that families need.
103.Public Health England’s review is clear that health education, health marketing and better provision of information about food and drink are an insufficient approach to reducing sugar intakes:
This is too serious a problem to be solved by approaches that rely only on individuals changing their behaviour in response to health education and marketing, or the better provision of information on our food. The environmental drivers of poor diets we face are just too big…
…It is clear that health campaigns and information to consumers, such as that provided through Change4Life and on food labels, cannot deal with this alone and a greater degree of action is needed.
104.According to Public Health England, health marketing—information campaigns aimed at promoting healthier choices—generally tend to help those who are already engaged with health, and “may therefore only serve to widen health inequalities”. Their evidence review elaborates on these points:
While consumer messaging and education and the provision of clear information are important, and people’s level of concern around sugar is high, a number of independent reports—including Foresight and those from McKinsey and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)—have highlighted that in order to be effective in tackling obesity, and particularly to help the poorest in society, activity needs to go beyond health messages and information to consumers. Actions need to be taken to address the structured drivers of obesity. In the case of achieving sugar reduction, this would mean focusing on the environmental drivers including advertising and marketing, price promotions, sugar levels in food and food availability.
105.They add the following commentary on Change4Life, the Government’s healthy eating campaign:
Evaluation of this year’s campaign demonstrated that it was successful in raising the profile of the key messages and getting more people involved and taking action; and that there have been some positive short-term changes in purchasing habits. However, because the nature of such campaign activity is for it to be run only in short bursts it could be concluded that resulting dietary changes are also likely to be only short-term (ie during the life of the campaign and for a short while afterwards) because the supporting messages and encouragement to change are not always present to the same degree. In addition, the food industry continues to bombard us with advertising for high sugar foods and drinks. The difference in advertising spend highlights this contrast—the UK food industry spent £256 million promoting ‘unhealthy’ foods sold in retail alone in 2014 compared to a total C4L spend the same year of just £3.9m.
106.Public Health England states that reducing sugar intakes is “too serious a problem to be solved by approaches that rely only on individuals changing their behaviour in response to health education and marketing, or the better provision of information on our food”. Public Health England also state that health education and marketing campaigns “may therefore only serve to widen health inequalities”. We accept the conclusions of Public Health England that health information and education campaigns would be insufficient on their own to tackle childhood obesity. In light of their potential to widen health inequalities, rather than narrow them, the government should not take the easy option of relying on health education campaigns to solve this problem. Whilst education is of course important to public understanding of the causes and consequences of childhood obesity as well as how to prevent and tackle the problem at an individual level, health education should form only one part of a far more ambitious approach.
Prepared 27 November 2015