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Posts Tagged ‘responsibility deal’

  • Andy Graham – specialty registrar in Public Health, County Durham

A couple of years ago I found myself in need of a dissertation topic for an MSc in Public Health – ‘make sure it’s something you are interested in’ was the advice. Simple I thought, I just need to weave football and beer into a research project! All joking aside though, I have become interested in the relationship between the two over the years.

As a public health professional and former A&E nurse, I am well aware of the potential harms of excessive alcohol consumption. Also, as a fan who both attends matches and watches on TV, I have become increasingly aware at how visible this relationship has become. Of course, football and beer have long been associated, ever since Victorian landlords would set up teams, use the land out back for a pitch and, in the amateur days, employ the team as barmen in lieu of pay.

But at the risk of sounding like my dad, when I ‘was a lad’, you either went to the match, where as a young working class man it was normal to have a pint with the lads, or you waited for Saturday night’s Match of the Day for your football fix. The pubs were open sporadically, had no TVs, and the football was rarely broadcast anyway.

Fast forward a few years and we have football on satellite TV almost every night of the week and all day at weekends, most top flight football clubs sponsored at some level by an alcohol brand, marketing of alcohol, beer in particular, is rife and the norm appears to be drink beer and watch football with the lads in the pub. Opportunities to do both are far more common than when ‘I was a lad’, and not just within pubs, but within living rooms, where the cheaper alcohol deals of the supermarkets are very popular. As a dad myself I was disturbed by these developments, but hadn’t been able to quantify them.

I decided my dissertation would try to measure the amount of alcohol marketing that football TV viewers were exposed to. With the help of Jean Adams at Newcastle University, I planned the research. I chose six live broadcasts representing over 18 hours of footage, developed coding frameworks and watched 40 hours plus of coding footage to consider all the verbal and visual references.

The results shocked me:

• Over 2,000 visual images, 111 per hour on average, or around 2 per minute.

• 32 verbal references.

• 17 traditional advertisements, accounting for 1% broadcast time.

• Over 1,100 visual images in one alcohol sponsored Cup competition alone

The issue of traditional advertising commercials is interesting because the ‘voluntary’ codes of practice in place to regulate how alcohol is portrayed (should not appeal to youth, should not suggest social success, etc.) are most relevant to this type of advertising. Given that we know that quantity of alcohol marketing is more important than content, then the apparently unchecked stream of visual references in this research may be even more important, and we could argue that the current controls are completely inadequate because they are focused on content, rather than quantity.

I can’t help but feel that we have taken our eye off the ball – the globalisation of sports such as premier league football as a product, the satellite age, the endless thirst for profit and market share within corporations, the ‘self’ regulation that fails to control the exposure reported above, the relaxed licensing laws in this country, and the increase in type, availability, and affordability of alcohol. All of these things create a perfect storm in which alcohol and sporting idols become normalised as one and the same, and the brand becomes a member of the team. It feels as though the relationship between sport and alcohol has evolved towards its perfect and logical form.

I am disturbed to be one of a generation of football fans that has been manipulated in this way and that my children are also targets. And meanwhile, the alcohol industry has a seat at the policy making table through the Public Health Responsibility Deal. So we must ask the question: are we sleepwalking into a situation where drinking alcohol is so closely associated with the sporting heroes that children see on TV, that they are being actively normalised to become drinkers? No one seems to question this, but it is time someone did, and through public health advocacy it may just be up to us.

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by Professor John Ashton, President of the Faculty of Public Health

What is the best way to advocate and improve public health policy? Quietly and diplomatically, or through loud and public protest? Or is there room for both approaches?

These are some of the questions that are part of the discussion that led to the Faculty of Public Health’s (FPH) recent decision to withdraw from the government’s Responsibility Deals, a group drawn from industry, local authorities and the public health community.

The aim of the responsibility deal was to provide a quicker means of improving public health policy than bringing new legislation before parliament. The logic was that a ‘carrot not stick’ approach would lead to faster progress than forcing companies to meet new legal requirements. Participating organisations signed up to pledges on public health issues such as physical activity, taking a billion units of alcohol out of circulation or reducing calories in food.

FPH had representatives on the alcohol, food, physical activity and health at work networks until July 2013. We owe a debt of thanks to those FPH representatives who gave up their time to challenge decision-making and question the logic of the direction public health policy was taking. We can be sure that their input has helped mitigate some of the worst excesses of a commercial need to put the value of shares ahead of public health.

FPH’s decision to join the responsibility deal was controversial and much debated throughout the past two years. There are many people within the public health community who disagreed with our participation. Others felt it was better to be at the table, than to leave the debate unchallenged by public health expertise.

Given how public health policy has developed in recent years, the available options for effective advocacy have sometimes seemed like the moment in the film Argo when CIA officer Jack O’ Donnell has to admit that the ludicrous-sounding plan to rescue American hostages in Tehran, by pretending they are the crew of a sci-fi fantasy movie, is the ‘best bad idea’ he has.

Unlike the fictional and public world of a Hollywood film, much of public health advocacy goes on in a less public fashion. It has become clear that government public health policy has fallen victim to a concerted and shameful campaign of lobbying by sections of the tobacco and drinks industry who are putting profits before health and public safety.

The balance of gains and losses of participating in the responsibility deals shifted recently when the Government made it clear that a minimum unit price for alcohol and standardised packs for cigarettes would not be introduced.

In light of this, we withdrew from all of the Responsibility Deal groups. Using legislation to bring in measures like minimum unit pricing would have been quicker than a ‘softly softly’ approach. There is also no way of knowing if the responsibility deals have been truly effective because it is unlikely the key pledges will be evaluated.

For example, there is no case for saying that the Billion Unit Pledge for alcohol is a success because any gains from people drinking lower alcohol beer have been cancelled out by the increase in people drinking wine and spirits. On these two measures alone, the Responsibility Deals have not achieved their original purpose.

FPH has worked with governments of all political persuasions since it was first founded over 40 years ago. We want to continue to work with Government to improve people’s health. We know that the best way to improve everyone’s health is by working in partnership and we remain committed to doing so. However, we, like other NGOs with limited resources for the important work we do, need to make sure we use our influence and expertise in the most effective way possible. We look forward to continuing our advocacy work and will keep you updated on how it progresses.

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By Alan Maryon-Davis

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley wants to encourage people to eat healthily, drink sensibly, stop smoking and get more active without lecturing or hectoring them. People don’t like being told what to do or not do – least of all by the Government – so Lansley says we should provide them with information and incentives and let them choose for themselves – nudging rather than nannying. Hence the Great Change4Life Swapathon with its supermarket discount vouchers for healthy options. Lots of carrots, no sticks.

There’s also much nudging behind Lansley’s Responsibility Deal with the food, drink and fitness industries. Double nudging – Lansley nudging them to nudge the public. Industry will “pledge” to provide information and incentives encouraging healthier choices.

So where’s the fudge? In return for industry cooperation (and cash) Lansley has said he’ll go easy on mandatory regulations around such things as marketing, labelling, availability and pricing. To be fair, he doesn’t rule these threats out completely. He talks about the Nuffield Ladder of Interventions, with the least intrusive (information, education and incentives) at the bottom and the most intrusive (regulation and legislation) at the top. But he’s made it clear he doesn’t want to climb that ladder unless he absolutely has to. It wouldn’t fit his political philosophy.

So there’s a big fudge around how he’ll monitor adherence to voluntary approaches, assess progress and judge when to bring in mandatory controls. The food and drink industries are notoriously slippery, evasive and foot-dragging – just look at labelling and marketing. Meanwhile the health lobby is going along with the Responsibility Deal in the hope that things might be different this time – well aware they risk being be-smudged as part of the fudge.

I’d like to see a solid pledge by the Government to regulate or legislate if voluntary approaches fail and to be crystal clear about how and when such judgements will be made. Without an explicit commitment to use force if necessary, the deal will be seen as no more than a charade letting Big Business off the hook.

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