LONDON (Reuters) - The British government unveiled a 250 million pound ($390 million) industry-financed plan to promote good eating on Sunday under which millions of people will receive vouchers offering discounts on healthy foods.
The coalition government is promoting the scheme as part of its Change4Life programme, aimed at combating Britain’s high obesity rate by encouraging people to eat healthier food and exercise more.
But some experts have accused food manufacturers of using it to enhance their image.
Millions in England will get 50 pounds’ worth of vouchers offering discounts on foods such as low-fat yogurts, wholegrain rice, frozen vegetables, fruit and alcohol-free lager.
The News of the World weekly, owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, will distribute three million books of vouchers; Asda, the British arm of U.S. retailer Wal-Mart, will hand out a million; and community groups a further million.
The vouchers offer discounts on products from food companies including Kellogg, Unilever, Nestle, Mars, baker Warburtons and frozen food brand Bird’s Eye as well as some Asda own-brand goods and trainers from sportswear retailer JJB Sports.
Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said the scheme was a “great example of how government, the media, industry and retailers can work together to help families to be healthy.”
But Tim Lang, professor of food policy at London’s City University, questioned the food companies’ motives.
“Is it a public health strategy? No, it is a corporate brand protection strategy,” he told the BBC.
Tam Fry, a board member of the National Obesity Forum, set up by doctors to highlight the health consequences of obesity, called the programme a step in the right direction but said it was too short-term to change people’s mindset about food.
The Change4Life campaign was originally launched in 2009 by the previous Labour government, which said that if the plan failed to reduce obesity within three years it might look at regulating the food industry.
The eight-month-old Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition has pledged to stop lecturing people and instead nudge them toward a healthier lifestyle.
Reporting by Adrian Croft; Editing by Noah Barkin