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Think BR: Whose health is it anyway?

In today's hectic lives 'convenience' has evolved to be synonymous with unhealthy products, writes Jon Weeks, director, Ipsos Marketing.

Jon Weeks, director, Ipsos Marketing

Jon Weeks, director, Ipsos Marketing

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The positive impact of the Olympics is still being felt, with John Lewis reporting a 178% increase in sport clothing and equipment compared to the same period in 2011. 

A separate study by Visa has indicated spending across Britain on sporting goods has seen a year on year increase of 47%. 

Britain is experiencing a healthy halo as an additional benefit in being hosts. But how long can this last? Across the board there are mixed messages.

Our own UK social space, has shown that overwhelmingly UK consumers believe that health is their own responsibility (98%), but that 65% claimed that they didn’t take enough exercise.

The NHS has eight key messages around healthy eating, with consumers most aware of 'five a day' messages related to fruit and vegetables. Others are based around key facts such as 'don’t skip breakfast' or 'eat less salt'.

UK consumers have readily accepted 'Five a day', mentioned by 91% of consumers, with 'cut down on saturated fat and sugar' and 'get active and be a healthy weight' both scoring 85%. 

Consumers believe that 'get active and be a healthy weight' is the most important. The majority of those interviewed (69%) believe they eat lots of fruit and vegetables already. 

Alongside healthy recommendations and suggestions, we’re now also 'nudging' consumers to better behaviour through the learnings of the Cabinet Office’s Behavioural Insight Team (BIT). Set up in 2010 it uses behavioural psychology to drive behaviour change across policy areas, such as energy efficiency and non-payment of taxes, as well as the nation’s health. 

For example, one of the things the team at the Cabinet Office uncovered was a study in Mexico which found that a simple line of tape across a shopping trolley to divide it into sections leads to an increased purchase of fruit and vegetables. 

One part of the trolley is allocated to fruit and vegetables, and the remaining space for all other purchases and there was no decrease in the level of retailer profitability. Even simple changes like appealing visual prompts of fresh fruit further added to this effect.

"The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion it has taken place." George Bernard Shaw

The overlap between government and food manufacturers appears when topics such as food labelling are introduced. Retailers have long argued about the best way to inform consumers, and we see the use of both the GDA (Guideline Daily Allowance) as well as the more visual traffic light system shown on the front of packs.

Until a consistent format is adopted across all retailers, the consumers will remain confused. Tesco recently announced it will be moving to the traffic light system.

Philip Clarke, Tesco’s chief executive, said: "We always listen to our customers and they have told us that by combining our popular GDA labels with traffic light colour coding we can make it even easier for them to make informed and healthy choices about the food they buy."

Visual systems are more readily noticed and also then found to influence the choices consumers make.

For some categories this is clearly good news - if you make a healthy product it’s all green, but what about products in categories that may not be quite so healthy? Here the advice would be to continue promoting with messaging such as "part of a healthy diet". No one lives by chocolate alone. 

The Behavioural Insight Team also suggest that a next step for retailers is to offer three month summaries of the nutritional information. 

Think of it as a summary of your energy usage from a utility supplier, or a spending review by a bank. 

Linked to loyalty cards and providing a point of comparison to a healthy profile, these can also provide a more holistic approach to guiding the diet of UK consumers - giving consumers examples of how to potentially eat more healthily. 

Brands can tap into this further by promoting products with consumers identified as those needing more support to improve their diet, highlighted within this three month review. 

Obesity levels are trending towards a point where 48% of men and 43% of women will be classed as obese in the UK by 2030. 

Clearly this will result in a further burden on the government healthcare funding with the costs associated being projected at around £2bn.

Lower income families have also been under pressure when shopping - with the cost of healthier foods at odds with "making sure my child eats". Healthy, cost effective treats/snacks or entire meal solutions remain a strong opportunity to be developed by brands.

The debate surrounding the Responsibility Deal and the potential controversy of involving food manufacturers shows that manufacturers have to lead rather than lag in order to bring a greater degree of trust to these issues.

While retailers are periodically offering equipment for schools via vouchers that are collected by parents shopping, it’s not entirely clear whether government policy in other areas is able to mirror such positivity. 

The current Education Secretary has overruled his own independent panel five times in fifteen months to push through sales of playing fields despite a promise from the coalition government to protect them.

Health and wellbeing is a shared responsibility - of the government, manufacturers, retailers, schools, parents and the individual. 

For the benefit of the UK population everyone needs to play a part. It’s not going to be an easy route, more of a challenging marathon - but the health rewards for the next generation would be the true legacy of the Olympics we have just held.

Jon Weeks, director, Ipsos Marketing

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