LONDON: Public Health England, the government body, has trained its focus on snacks, with financial offers designed to woo parents into buying their children healthier snacks, as reports compare the tactics of snack brands to those of Big Tobacco.

Research from the public health body suggests that half of British children’s sugar consumption comes from unhealthy snacks and sugary drinks, Marketing Week reported. Children, on average, consume at least three snacks or drinks a day, while a third of children surveyed consumed at least four.

The reason, said PHE, is a continued “snackification” of the contents of children’s lunch boxes - the combined effect of which, the government body added, is that lunch becomes a collection of unhealthy snacks. This proliferation of snacks has also encouraged some children to eat more between mealtimes.

“We’ve focused on sugar for the past couple of years, so you have to find new ways into the sugar debate. You can’t just keep saying the same things,” said Sheila Mitchell, marketing director at PHE. “Public health messages can become wallpaper if you say the same thing”.

To combat this phenomenon, PHE is offering price reductions on fruit, veg, and healthier snacks at certain supermarkets.

The campaign comes as the Guardian yesterday published an interview with marketer Dan Parker, whose clients included McDonald’s and Coca Cola, in which he criticised Big Food brands’ behaviour.

“I think what the food industry does now will define where it lands,” he said. “If it behaves like tobacco it will end up being treated like tobacco. And I think it is behaving like tobacco”.

Beyond appeals to brands, retailers, and agencies, which he believes do not work, Parker added that government regulation is the correct answer to the problem. He noted that manufacturers have voluntarily reduced the size of their chocolate bars but not cut prices, with the result that consumers are shifting towards bigger bars and sharing bags which are seen as better value.

His views have evolved following his diagnosis with type 2 diabetes as a result of obesity. “What’s clearly happening at the moment is the food industry’s working hard to drag its heels,” he argued, by funding research “deflecting [the causes of obesity] away from being about what we eat”.

The inconvenient truth, Parker stated, “is that to resolve the obesity crisis, we need to eat less food”.

Ironically, the reduction in size of chocolate bars can be linked to an agreement between Public Health England and confectionery companies in which the latter agreed to shrink bars in order to avoid being named in a government report into childhood obesity.

Sourced from Marketing Week, the Guardian, The Independent; additional content by WARC staff