Thursday, 3 January 2013

Public Health: Irresponsible Advertising

This morning I was shocked and appalled. I was browsing my local councils website and saw an advertisement below what I was reading. I decided to click through to the health and well being page to see if the advert was still present, and there it was right before my eyes:

Some of you may think that this is trivial but for a council that in 2004 was at the forefront of the healthy eating in schools initiative, starting even before Jamie Oliver got involved in school meals, I think this is a disgrace. I can see the upshot of advertising on the council website, it brings in revenue which helps reduce the cost of running the website. Surely though the council shouldn't undo all the hard work it has put into healthy lifestyle initiatives to earn a few pennies each time someone clicks the link (and yes, I feel bad for clicking the link, but it is in the interests of research so I hope you can forgive me). 

The website you get through to is advertising dieting solutions, trimdownclub.com. The website seems like an easy way to play on vulnerable people's need to lose weight and offers an eight week dieting course for £29. After watching their video it just seemed to me like a lot of nonsense, telling us that celebrities used coaches and trainers (not what they used them for) and therefore we need to pay for this website, which seems like flawed logic to me. Here is a quote taken directly from the website:

"The information contained herein is not intended to provide specific physical or mental health advice, or any other advice whatsoever, for any individual or company and should not be relied upon in that regard."

If that does not make you suspicious then I don't know what will. Anyway, back to the main point which is the council undermining its own efforts for healthy eating. Having a large advertising banner indicating that you should not eat bananas is clearly not the best way to promote healthy eating and the 'five a day' initiative. Despite the disclaimer above the advert, it is not acceptable for a public body to be contradicting itself in the pursuit of a small amount of revenue. People are responsible for what they advertise on their website and it is not good enough to claim that you are not responsible for what appears below. What would the council say when a child turns to his parents and says: "Look mummy, I don't need to eat bananas, the council says so."

Seeing as I do advocate constructive criticism, what should the council do? Why not take the opportunity to advertise on behalf of local businesses which could produce much more revenue through the greater interest in the advertisements. It would fulfill both the councils need to generate revenue from the website and help with their commitment to developing local  businesses.

So writing about it here may change a few people's minds, but it will not have any effect on what the council thinks. I intend to write to both the council and my local newspaper and see what they have to say. If I hear anything back I will let you know. In the mean time let me know what you think, especially if you think that there is nothing wrong with the advert.

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