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January means public health campaigns

News, 07 January 2016

LONDON: The new year is traditionally a time to try to give up smoking or cut out alcohol, but this year the UK government is also encouraging parents to reduce their children's sugar consumption.

The marketing director of Public Health England, an executive agency of the Department of Health, outlined the thinking behind a three-pronged approach to tackling some the country's health issues.

"Sugar is getting more spend because of the whole obesity [debate]," Sheila Mitchell told Marketing.

"Sugar has £5m behind it, smoking got £1.5m, because we spent budget doing Stoptober earlier in the [financial] year."

Stoptober, a 28-day mass quitting challenge that ran last October, saw 215,000 people sign up, but there are still some 8m smokers in England and 80,000 smoking-related deaths every year.

"Dry January is social and PR, so we're just trying to get a low level of noise," Mitchell added.

The "Sugar Smart" campaign launched this week with widespread media coverage of the innovative Sugar Smart app that tells users how many sugar cubes there are in processed food and drink simply by scanning the barcode.

Children in the UK are now consuming three times the maximum recommended daily amount of sugar.

"We found when doing focus groups, when we were revealing sugar cubes as part of the campaign development, our mums really sprung up and said that was really useful information," Mitchell explained.

"We thought there must be a way we could do this in app form. It's taken some time to develop the idea and ensure most key products get into the database."

She was cautious on whether the agency would be developing more apps in future, although she was adamant that it was committed to digital tools. Indeed, the organisation's marketing strategy has a stated aim of becoming a world leader in digital public health.

"What we do is different to commercial: we are trying to change behaviours on a sustained basis rather than achieve hard sales," Mitchell said. "Maybe that behaviour change model frees you up to do more."

Data sourced from Marketing, Public Health England; additional content by Warc staff