Responsibility Deal success – our kids might be depending on it.

Posted: June 27, 2011 in Corporate Social Responsibility, Responsibility Deal, Sustainability

Ella Mayhew, Director, Corporate

I was delighted to hear that Diageo is to pay for 10,000 midwives in England and Wales to be trained to offer advice on the dangers of alcohol during pregnancy. In my opinion, this is a great example of what can be achieved through a collaborative partnership, rather than top-down Government intervention. 

A recent poll of UK consumers by the research company TNS indicates that consumers are inclined to agree. A quarter of respondents think that the food and drinks industry should lead the way in educating consumers on how to make healthy choices and more than half (58 percent) say it is down to individuals to take personal responsibility for what they are eating and drinking.  So, with funding from industry, guidance from Government, access to primary care practitioners and the delivery of information to consumers, could it be true that with the Responsibility Deal, the government has in fact, come upon the perfect behaviour change approach?

I’d like to think yes, but already the naysayers are out in force.  Of course, there are some who feel there are insurmountable conflicts of interest in an industry player funding the solution.  To this group of people, industry will only ever be part of the problem.  But these are not the only critical voices that have been circulating since Diageo’s announcement made headlines. Across social media sites and blogger forums the debate about whether the move is money wasted, have been coming in thick and fast: “Don’t they {pregnant women} already know? Everybody else knows. Does it require formal training to get this simple message across?” comments one.  “How many people are unaware that pregnant drinking is bad?” adds another. 

I don’t doubt that the majority of women in England and Wales are aware that drinking alcohol while pregnant is not good for you. But when statistics show that more than a third (34%) of women don’t give up alcohol when pregnant, then clearly, more information is needed.  

If anyone knows how best to create messages and package them in a way that resonates with target consumers, surely it is the world’s biggest food and drink brands?  At MSL London, we work with some of these companies to deliver simple and informative health related materials for use with patients by healthcare professionals. The materials (brochures, pamphlets, websites etc) are developed by independent experts and supported by the latest science. And they are created because these companies want to make a difference.   

If food and drink industry support for improving our health were to stop, the landscape of our wellbeing would suffer. The public purse is more stretched than ever; remove industry support and it becomes harder to fund and coordinate public health initiatives, with the result that far fewer health and wellbeing messages end up reaching the consumer. 

Foetal alcohol exposure is the leading known cause of intellectual disability in the Western world, caused directly by consuming alcohol while pregnant. It is estimated internationally that one in every 100 children are born with Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD). If Diageo’s initiative enables midwives in England and Wales to reach a million women with more information on FASD, then that’s surely good enough reason for us all be hoping the Responsibility Deal is a success.


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