Page last updated at 01:33 GMT, Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Middle-aged targeted in Change4Life health campaign

'I'm not Jack-the-porky now'

The middle-aged are to be urged to downsize their plates and dance to the radio as part of the government-backed Change4Life advertising campaign.

It is the latest stage of a multi-million pound drive to curb England's obesity rates, launched a year ago.

The campaign has come in for criticism, but the government says one million mothers have sought to change their families' lifestyles in the past year.

The 45-65 age bracket is the new target of "Swap It, Don't Stop It".

The adverts feature a plasticine-type figure with a "friendly geezer" voice and a tyre around his waist. His tyre gradually deflates as he watches what he eats and takes more exercise.

The ads, warning that extra weight increases the chances of a host of diseases, will run on the TV and in print.

An accompanying leaflet offers a series of "simple ways to swap some of the things you eat, drink and do for healthier choices".

"Room swap", for instance, urges this age group to go out into the garden rather than lounge in the living room, while "dance swap" encourages people to get up and dance to the radio rather than sitting back and enjoying celebrities waltzing on the TV.

To curb the amount of food consumed, the adverts also advise that the size of plates are reduced, while other tips include putting your crisps in a bowl instead of dipping your hand into a jumbo size bag.

Skimmed milk success

The Department of Health is claiming significant successes from the first year of its campaign, which targeted young families. It extrapolates from surveys that more than 1m mothers have made changes to their children's diet or activity levels as a result of Change4Life.

Food swap: Fill up on healthier food like fruit and veg instead of food that is high in fat or added sugar
Toast swap: white bread has very little fibre, so swap your white toast for wholemeal or wholegrain toast
Spritzer swap: A good way to cut down on alcohol calories is to have a smaller glass of wine topped up with soda water
TV swap: think about the sports you enjoy watching on TV and get out and give them a try
Source: Change4Life leaflet

It also suggests that data gathered from supermarkets suggests changes in the types of food purchased, with more low-fat milk and low-sugar drinks passing through the checkouts.

The three-year Change4Life initiative followed a major report which warned the government must act to stop Britain "sleepwalking" into an obesity crisis, although some of the predictions have subsequently been modified.

Latest figures show that childhood obesity rates are in fact levelling off, with significantly downgraded predictions of rates for both boys and girls by 2020.

The reasons for the slow-down are unclear - and may include government intervention - but they are in line with trends now being recorded in other developed countries.

No such slow-down has however been seen among UK adults, with 44% of men and 38% of women predicted to be classified as obese during middle-age by 2020.

There are doubts as to whether this next stage of the £75m campaign will alter these predictions.

While some brand the drive patronising, others suggest the government is doing too little, too late.

"It is an inoffensive campaign, but falls far short of being a world changing one. People being encouraged to get up and dance to the radio is not the answer to this problem," says Dr David Haslam, the clinical director of the National Obesity Forum.

"Yes, mothers buying lower fat milk and people changing their plate sizes - if they indeed do - is to be applauded, but really the government would be better spending money and time on interventions which have more evidence behind them."

But the UK Faculty of Public Health is impressed by what it has seen to date.

"Change4Life does seem to have sparked off a whole national movement for healthier family living," says faculty president Dr Alan Maryon-Davis.

"Shifting the focus to adults may get more people involved - but I hope it won't mean cutting back on the family-based approaches which have proved so popular. We need sustained investment in promoting family health."

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