Earlier today, I saw an advert whilst watching the incredible The End of the ****ing World on 4oD (definitely watch it, it’s bloody brilliant, yet not the point of this article). This advert is the Change4Life advert – as in promoted by Public Health England and targeted at children/mothers buying snacks for their children – which repeats the catchphrase ‘Look for 100 calorie snacks, twice a day max.’ This is a £4.5 billion campaign aimed to reduce obesity and tooth decay (campaign can be found here).
Let’s start with something we definitely can’t ignore – the so-called ‘obesity epidemic’. I’m sure if you’re that way inclined (I really hope not) and pick up a copy of the Daily Fail on any day of the week, you’ll see some sort of headline telling you how Britain is getting so overweight that the whole of the UK will collapse into the sea – either that or that immigrants are coming to take all our jobs and damaging the NHS (sense the hyperbole). The campaign comes after research shows that between the ages of 4 to 10, children’s annual sugar consumption is 51.2% from unhealthy snacks, which equates to 3 sugary snacks a day. Does this research suggest anything about how much exercise children do on average and how they need short bursts of energy to sustain themselves for all that playing and running around?! Now, I’m not disagreeing that there is a problem with obesity in children to a certain extent, but I think there really needs to be some kind of evidence to show how this is realistically a problem – or ‘epidemic’.
Inherently, both fat and sugar are NOT bad and we shouldn’t be teaching this to the target audience, our children! Kids are especially vulnerable to the pressures that society imposes around food, weight and eating habits. By imposing strict rules around what should and should not be consumed will ultimately form their future eating habits, and this advert can only be damaging. As we all know, kids will either conform to what is the ‘norm’ but if they are anything like me as a child, will rebel as much as bloody possible!
As someone who has – and still does – suffer from eating disorders, I think this campaign is one of the most irresponsible things that PHE could produce. As long as I can possibly remember, I thought I was fat – even to this day – and since the age of 12, I’ve had some form of eating disorder (anorexia, EDNOS, bulimia – forcing myself to throw up from that tender age). For PHE to promote calorie counting in children is simply careless – I would not be surprised if over the next decade, eating disorders begin to rise even more than they are currently. Between 2010 and 2016, eating disorders in men have risen by 70% according to the NHS, with approximately 1.25 million people suffering across the UK and this figure is only rising. As well as this, it is damaging to those whom are currently suffering from ED, triggering them to eat even less or maybe even purge more. Let’s remember that someone doesn’t have to look like a ‘typical ED sufferer’ and it can affect anyone in different forms. I just find it completely tactless.
In my personal opinion, instead of representing calorie counting as the perfect measure of eating habits (let’s face it, it’s so completely wrong for the majority), we should be promoting healthy eating, exercise and more importantly, moderation and education. We need to teach children about eating disorders (and a whole spectrum of mental health illnesses but don’t get me started) from an early age, as well as the importance of being healthy, forms of exercise that are right for them and getting rid of that bloody food pyramid in exchange for more comprehensive understanding of food. I’m not discarding all PHE do, the addition of fruit in schools, creating somewhat healthier school meals due to Jamie Oliver (RIP Turkey Twizzlers), the necessity to have a certain number of hours of physical education a week and the importance of biology are all fantastic. Yet, they will ultimately discredit themselves if they fail to see how calorie counting and actually weighing children in school are just ridiculous.
In conclusion (finally, sorry for the rant), PHE have done a really awful job with this advert. I understand their justification to try and reduce obesity and tooth decay but ultimately, this advert can only cause more harm than good. Let’s face it, is it really worth the increase of poor relationship with food among children (even possibly adults), as well as triggering those with eating disorders, all for the sake of children eating one less sugary snack a day?
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