The new national anti-obesity initiative has an ambitious goal: in the words of Public Health Minister Dawn Primarolo, “We are trying to create a lifestyle revolution on a huge scale – something which no government has attempted before.”
The campaign forms part of the government’s “Healthy Weight, Healthy Lives” strategy, a key goal of which is to reduce the proportion of overweight and obese children to 2000 levels over the next 12 years. So although the healthy lifestyle messages are relevant to everyone, the target audience of Change4Life is families with children under the age of 12.
The movement is being launched with a multimillion pound advertising campaign on television, billboards, online and in the press, backed up by a range of promotional tools such as leaflets, an interactive website, local events and sub-brands like Cook4Life, Play4Life and Dance4Life.
What's new about Change4Life?
The Department of Health (DoH) is emphasising the ‘society-wide’ nature of the Change4Life movement in the belief that people will only change their own lifestyle habits if they see that everyone else is doing it too. “We want families to engage with the campaign and understand that obesity is not someone else’s problem – it’s all of our problem,” explains Ms Primarolo.
To extend the campaign’s reach and capitalise on brand loyalties, the DoH is working with a wide range of ‘trusted’ partners in the governmental, non-governmental and commercial sectors, including supermarkets, food and drinks manufacturers, patient support groups and grassroots organisations.
According to the DoH, “If families are to change their behaviours around diet and activity they will need the support of those they trust: their doctors, their schools, the supermarkets where they buy their food, the institutions and brands that they trust.”
The involvement of companies that manufacture and sell products such as crisps, snacks and sugary drinks has come in for strong criticism in some quarters, however, including the medical journal The Lancet.
Its editorial states: “Nobody doubts that innovative ways are urgently needed to achieve behaviour change at a population level for the prevention of an impending obesity epidemic and its related threats to health… [but] ill-judged partnerships with companies that fuel obesity should have been avoided.”
Why do we need a 'lifestyle revolution'?
According to Health Secretary Alan Johnson, two-thirds of adults and one-third of children in the UK are overweight or obese, and, unless action is taken, this could rise to almost nine in 10 adults and two-thirds of children by 2050.
This prediction is lent credence by official statistics suggesting that much of the advice on healthy eating and physical activity emanating from government sources in recent years has fallen on deaf ears.
Research consistently shows that, while there are regional and socioeconomic variations, the population as a whole continues to consume too many unhealthy foods and take too little exercise.
In a recent survey of consumer attitudes for the Food Standards Agency, for example, just 19 per cent of adults said they’d been trying to cut down on saturated fats in the previous six months, and the same proportion said they planned to do so in the following six months.
And survey data published in 2008 by the NHS Information Centre show that, in 2006:
- Only 40 per cent of male and 28 per cent of female respondents met the recommended level of physical activity for adults (a minimum of 30 minutes of at least moderate-intensity activity five times a week or more)
- Three in 10 adults said they had not participated in active sport in the past 12 months. The main reasons cited were that their health wasn’t good enough (50 per cent), they had difficulty finding the time (18 per cent) and they just weren’t interested (15 per cent)
- Only 28 per cent of men and 32 per cent of women said they ate five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
Meanwhile, the number of prescriptions dispensed for the treatment of obesity continues to rise: total prescriptions reached 1.06 million in 2006 – more than eight times the number prescribed in 1999.
So what are the 'changes 4 life'?
Change4Life sets out eight ‘healthy behaviours’ that can help keep children fit and healthy and reduce their risk of becoming overweight or obese. These are:
60 active minutes
Having an hour of physical activity every day
Up and about
Encouraging children to get 60 active minutes each day by setting a limit on ‘sitting still’ time – for example, a maximum of two hours a day
Eating five portions of fruit and vegetables every day
Replacing food and drinks with added sugar with products that are lower in sugar or sugar free
Setting a limit on the number of snacks and treats permitted
Me size meals
Serving child-sized portions, not adult portions
Sticking to regular meal times, instead of skipping meals, snacking or eating fast foods
Cut back fat
Reducing ’bad’ fat intake by comparing food labels, swapping certain foods for others and switching to healthier cooking methods.
Families can receive a personalised ‘Free Action Plan’ that identifies what they’re doing right and what they can work on improving by visiting the Change4Life website and completing the ‘How are the kids?’ questionnaire.
Meanwhile, if you want to start making some ‘changes4life’ today, why not round up the kids for a fun family fitness game?
And for a tasty family supper, try out one of this month’s recipes – they’re all reassuringly low in unhealthy saturated fats:
Healthier macaroni cheese
Beef and mushroom stroganoff
Useful government websites
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