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03/11/2010 10:49  RssIcon

Nestle have been accused of using an anti-obesity campaign to promote sugary products.

Multinational food giant Nestle has been condemned by children's health campaigners who say that the company is misusing labelling from a government programme designed to reduce obesity and promote healthy lifestyles.

According to the Children's Food Campaign, Nestle is using the government's Change4Life logo on its website as part of an offer which gives away family activities in exchange for tokens collected from their products. Critics say that this is a way of indirectly promoting Nestle goodsb that have high sugar content, contra to the Change4Life aim of encouraging families to choose food and drinks that are sugar free or low in sugar.

A survey by the Children's Food Campaign found that 24 out of the 27 food  items which form part of the Nestle offer are officially categorised as 'high in sugar' by the Food Standards Agency. In response the Department of Health has admitted that it permitted Nestle  to use the official logo 'in error', adding that it will review the logo's use.

A Nestle spokesperson said: "The use of the Change4Life logo on our website was approved and agreed by the Department of Health... We will continue to work with the Department of Health and will act on any changes they advise us to make."

Christine Haigh, co-ordinator of Children's Food Campaign, speaking to the BBC, commented on how the incident reflects a broader trend: "This is yet another example of the food industry claiming to promote healthy lifestyles whilst in fact encouraging families to eat more junk food." 
Nestle have faced stern criticism from numerous international NGOs for their practices in the past.

A high-profile campaign which exposed their aggressive promotion of infant  formula - a substitute for breast milk - in less economically developed  countries led to an international boycott against the corporation in the 1980s which is still in place to this day.

The International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) claimed that Nestle  distributed infant formula for free in maternity wards to new mothers. This interferes with the lactaction; and as after leaving the hospital the formula is no longer free, families are forced to buy the product. UNICEF  has in the past stated that improved breastfeeding practices and reduction of artificial feeding could save an estimated 1.5 million children a year.


Yet the news that Nestle appears guilty of manipulating an official government campaign against the foodstuffs it produces has been labelled by other critics as a symptom of a broader malaise, rather than a one-off. This comes in the wake of Health Minister Andrew Lansley's decision in July to withdraw public funding of the Change4Life programme and instead invite private firms - including Mars, Cadbury and Coca-Cola - to take over financing of the scheme.

Anti-obesity campaigners and health organisations received the news with consternation. Speaking to the Independent, Tam Fry, of the National Obesity Forum, said:

"[This is] nothing other than a bare-faced request for cash from a rich food and drink industry to bail out a cash-starved Department of Health campaign. The quid pro quo is that the Department gives industry an assurance that there will be no regulation or legislation over its activities."

This echoed earlier criticism levelled in an editorial of medical journal The Lancet which at the launch the Change4Life programme in January 2009 registered its astonishment of the government allowing corporate sponsorship of the programme, declaring: "It beggars belief that the government has allowed sponsorship by commercial companies...[who are] the makers of the very products that contribute to obesity".





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