Over a year on from the introduction of the controversial Change4Life campaign that infuriated the UK games industry by linking the playing of video games with premature death, the Government has confirmed that it is to withdraw all further funding for the project.
Instead, Parliament intends to hand over funding of the initiative to the food and drinks giants that MCV ousted in 2009 as the bank-rollers of the attack on video games.
Health Secretary Andrew Lansley claims that over £50m has so far been spent on the ads and drastic cuts to government advertising budgets mean that no further money can be allocated to the campaign. Saying he was opposed to “burdensome regulation” over industry matters such as food labelling, Lansley instead expects food companies to step in and fund the project going forwards.
“We need a new approach,” he said in a speech. “We have to make Change4life less a government campaign, more a social movement; less about costly advertising, more about supporting family and individual responses.
"I will now be pressing the commercial sector to provide actual funding behind the campaign, and they need to do more. If we are to reverse the trends in obesity, the commercial sector needs to change their business practices, including how they promote their brands and product reformulation."
The easing of regulations is expected to lead to a new drive in campaigning, with supporters such as Nestle, Pepsico, Danone, Cadbury and McCain pressing forward with a much more visible campaign that better represents the agenda they believe best suits their brand.
It is understood that companies who back the drive, such as sole games representative Nintendo, have not yet received any official communication on the change in direction.
Health organisations have understandably reacted badly to the news, with the British Heart Foundation’s director of policy and communications Betty McBride stating: “We wait with bated breath for the fast food merchants, chocolate bar makers and fizzy drink vendors to beat a path to the public health door. Meanwhile, parents and children continue to be faced with the bewildering kaleidoscope of confusing food labels and pre-watershed junk food ads.”
The National Obesity Forum’s Tam Fry added: “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.”
Andrew Lansley added some had felt “stigmatised” for selling junk food, yet it was “perfectly possible to eat a bag of crisps, a Mars bar, or drink a carbonated soft drink” in moderation.
"I see our new approach as a partnership with an expectation of non-regulatory approaches," he elaborated. "We will work with partners in Change4life to give people better information in less prescriptive ways."
Not convinced by the Government’s defence of the move, a campaign from MCV lodged with the ASA and backed by EA – as well as lobbying from trade body ELSPA – eventually saw the Change4Life campaign altered to promote the health-properties of gaming, winning the backing of motion-gaming pioneer Nintendo in the process.