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Government signs up supermarkets to help tackle obesity

Published on 14/11/08 at 11:03am

More exercise and healthier eating are at the core of the government's new anti-obesity initiative, called Change4Life.

Billed this week as a "lifestyle revolution", one of its main ideas is to harness the power of supermarkets in determining what we eat.

It follows on from last year's Foresight Report, which concluded that overweight or obese people cost the economy £7 billion in treatment, benefits, loss of earnings and reduced productivity.

Without action, costs by 2050 would be £50 billion - or almost half the NHS's current annual budget.

"Obesity is the biggest public health challenge the country faces," said health secretary Alan Johnson. "If we don't take action now we will condemn our children to reduced life expectancy."

Around 90% of today's children will otherwise be overweight and at risk from serious diseases in 30 years' time, he believes.

Parental ignorance of the link between obesity and conditions such as heart disease and cancer - as well as lack of confidence about cooking from scratch - are key factors in the problem, says Johnson.

Department of Health research suggest that parents don't recognise their children are overweight and underestimate how much unhealthy food and convenience food they buy.

They also overestimate the amount of activity their children do.

"Finger wagging and lecturing won't work, that's why Change4Life is designed to be supportive and helpful," he concluded.

From January, Tesco will run themed Change4Life promotional activity in store on healthier products under the banner Change4Life 4 Less.

Meanwhile Asda will run promotions that encourage healthier eating and support cycling as a family activity.

"Ten million people visit their corner shops every day and 36 million shop at Asda and Tesco each week - the fact that grocers and supermarkets are on board means we can really influence what goes into our shopping trolleys," said Johnson.

In addition to supermarkets, the government wants support from other companies and charities.

It says that so far 12,400 organisations including Cancer Research, Diabetes UK and the British Heart Foundation, PepsiCo, Kellogg's, ITV, the Association of Convenience Stores and the Fitness Industry Association have signed up.

Next year ITV1 will track viewers' progress in meeting personal pledges to lead healthier lives.

Kellogg's is to invest £100,000 a year for the next three years to create breakfast clubs in the 500 most deprived areas in Britain, and provide access to all children in the UK by 2013.

PepsiCo is to fund advertising to promote the benefits of active play, featuring some of its contracted sports stars.

The government is also talking to BSkyB, Kraft and Unilever.

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