Fat 4 life

By Paul Flower on Jan 28, 09 01:28 PM

So, where were we? Sitting on our fat arses as usual, surfing the net or watching some other screen for signs of life. There's nothing to see here and even if there was you wouldn't be able to see it because my enormous fat gut is blocking out the sun.

Last week we decided that advertising is very powerful. Or rather I decided that on your behalf, in fact it's mostly powerfully annoying. The Government use advertising a lot of late, they use it for public service purposes and also to try and convince us that your self-assessment tax form is easy to fill in. We're rarely fooled.

Their latest campaign tells us that we have to 'change 4 life' . The inclusion of the numeral is presumably to make them appear 'hip' (ironic use of outdated term) and appeal to the youngsters. It's important to appeal to the young because we, their irresponsible parents, have been filling them full of junk food and making them watch TV instead of exercising. This has nothing to do with our yearning for an easy life, or the fact that we're too busy working to pay our bills to bother what our children eat, or do in their spare time.

Advertising rarely addresses the complicated issues of life - it's all just black & white (but in lurid colour, of course). The other problem with having the Govt. preach to us is that most people I know are disinclined to do anything that the Govt. tells them to. I'm also forced to wonder whether I believe the stats - this is, of course, a Govt. that likes to spin, can I really believe it?

I suspect we all know that we're less healthy than we were, and that this is largely the result of our inability to resist temptation. The health service's annual ad budget is in the region of £50m, approximately a tenth of what the food & drink industry spends on television alone. In a straight fight 10 vs. 1 doesn't sound like great odds, 50 vs. 500 is even worse.

We all know we're fatter; couldn't HM Govt. have spent the ad money in a slightly better way than just reminding us of this fact? I can think of a few ideas very quickly - dropping VAT on fitness equipment, abolishing it completely on bicycles for example. They have introduced some complicated system of interest-free loans via your employer to encourage people to ride bikes; I looked at it and couldn't understand it.

Gyms and Health Centres are also bloody expensive, is there no way to make them cheaper to encourage greater use? Swimming is great exercise, where is the increased expenditure on better public pools or funding for better pricing concessions? I know nothing of how things are funded or incentivised, but these are surely practical ideas that might work better than advertising. They would also earn PR coverage which I tend to think (with a vested interest in PR & marketing) has greater value than TV advertising.

Change 4 Life encourages us to get moving more, by going out to the park for example. There are masses of reasons why I can't currently undertake these forms of exercise with my children - one is that it is winter, encroaching darkness & penetrating cold is a great deterrent. Yes, Jan is a good time to try to get people to make new resolutions but winter is possibly not the best season to advertise our need for increased exercise.

So, it's dark before they get home from school and even then we'd have a problem doing something active. The Govt. insistence upon school grading and education generally means that the kids have got plenty of homework to get through. Getting them to exercise their bodies after their brains is fairly difficult; we generally don't have the time to do both.

On that basis the Govt. needs to make a greater focus on exercise as part of the school curriculum, fairly difficult when they've allowed most schools to sell off their playing fields in order to raise funds. It's even more problematic as they've spent years removing competitive sport from the school timetables.

Neither of my kids currently goes swimming with their school, something I clearly remember doing. My daughter is a fantastic swimmer, possibly a potential Olympian, but the cost of swimming and gym membership means that during a recession we're not swimming at all. What price could they put on free swimming - even if it was only voucher assisted for children?

It wouldn't be the first time the Govt. had to solve a problem that it and its predecessors have helped to create; I wish I could be certain that it has chosen the best way of doing it. Being healthy takes resolve, costs money, can cause friction and it's not the easy option. Is advertising the real route to address those difficult issues?

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