Platinum Award winner PHE ‘Sugar Smart’

Blog post by Public Health England

Friday 4 November 2016

Public Service Communications Excellence Awards 2016 - Platinum Award winner Public Health England Change4Life Sugar Smart

Change4Life exists to address one of the most serious health challenges of the 21st century – childhood obesity. Overweight children are not only at increased risk of immediate health problems; they are also more likely to become obese adults. Over-consumption of sugar is a huge contributor to obesity and parents underestimate the amount of sugar their children consume – current figures show children are eating three times more than the recommended daily maximum amount.

The objectives for the Change4Life Sugar Smart campaign were structured around the model below and KPIs were set against these objectives.


  • Engage families with the issue of consuming too much sugar, emphasising its ubiquity and the dangers it poses
  • Personalise the issue through using examples of sugary foods and drinks and how these compare to the daily limits so that families realise that the message is relevant for them.


  • Encourage families to take control of their diet.
  • Motivate parents to protect their children from the dangers of sugar.


  • Drive download of the sugar smart app and engage significant numbers of families with the C4L campaign by offering them free support e.g. pack, eCRM and web tools (target:400,000 downloads).


  • Support sustained, healthy changes in daily family habits.

The campaign’s aims support Public Health England’s (PHE) overall objective to protect and improve the public’s health and well-being. Reducing childhood obesity is a priority issue for PHE and Change4life supports this objective through motivating people to make changes to their diet.


Audience Insight and analysis


The National Diet and Nutrition Survey (May 2014) showed that people are eating more sugar than they should across all age groups:

  • Children consume three times more sugar than the maximum recommended by SACN each day. Intakes are highest in groups with the lowest incomes.
  • Intake above recommendations can lead to excess energy intake, which can lead to being overweight and obese.
  • NCMP data shows that one in five 4-5yr olds and one in three 10-11yrs olds are overweight or obese.
  • Too much sugar in the diet is associated with dental caries. In 2012, almost one third of 5 year olds in England had tooth decay.
  • Obesity costs the NHS more than £5bn every year. On current trends it will reach £9.7bn by 2050, with wider costs to society reaching £49.9bn.
  • There are now around 2.5million people suffering from type 2 diabetes and it’s predicted to rise to 10% of the population by 2034.

Audience insight

PHE have conducted extensive research with families since Change4Life launched in 2009. This has included formative research, creative development, ethnography and testing. For the Sugar Smart campaign we also conducted a new piece of research in September 2015. Together these insights showed:

  • Parents underestimate the amount of sugar they and their children eat.
  • Parents do not make the connection between unhealthy weight status in their children and long-term health problems.
  • While parents acknowledge childhood obesity is a problem they do not think of it as ‘their’ problem: They imagine extreme cases of obesity in children, and misperceive the weight status of their own children.
  • Parents want their children to be happy: that may mean body confidence rather than healthy weight.
  • Parents are concerned about sugar but they are unaware of how high the levels of sugar are in particular products.
  • Parents were shocked by the visualisations of sugar when seen as real sugar cubes.
  • A prototype of the app tested well and parents liked the aspect of scanning products to see their nutritional value.

Strategy and Implementation

Sugar Smart aimed to alert people about the surprising amounts of sugar in food. Sugar is often unseen, with surprising amounts lurking in everyday food and drink. Academic research (John Milton Adams et al, Appetite 83 (2014) 10–18) showed that visualising sugar helped reduce attraction to sugary drinks. PHE did this by visualising the amount of sugar in different products featured in the campaign creative and created the Sugar Smart app, which allowed families to see the sugar in thousands of products, simply by scanning the barcode.

PHE ran advertising across 750 supermarkets, on ASDA shopping trolleys and utilised Tesco SmartScreens to deliver targeted messaging, disrupting behaviour and driving downloads at point-of-sale. Triggers were set up to deliver mobile ads into households when sugar-heavy products were on TV and partnered with MySupermarket, automatically counting and visualising the sugar cubes in online shopping baskets and offering healthier alternatives.

To launch the campaign with impact PHE revealed that the average 4-to-10-year-old consumes over 5,500 sugar cubes each year, equivalent to the average weight of a five-year-old. This startling fact was brought this to life in a short impactful film, ‘Sugar Boy’, providing value-for-money broadcast collateral and shareable social content. To garner united support, key stakeholders, charities and media-medics were briefed six months ahead of launch. A toolkit was developed for the nine PHE regions to encourage local media pick-up and for softer channels, a video series with celebrity mum Jamelia and TV nutritionist, Amanda Ursell. 5m packs were distributed for free via partner organisations including 3.6m via schools so every primary school child could receive one in a book bag. Cooking events with chefs were held in schools across England, providing relevant content for local media.

Implementation Plan, Resources and Timescale

PHE used a range of channels to promote the campaign and mapped these to the behavioural model.

The campaign ran for six weeks from Jan – Feb 2016.

Alert & motivate: marketing campaign (TV, radio, social media, events, and partnerships).
Support: Apps, digital tools, physical information packs, and school programme.
Sustain: eCRM, partnerships with Local Authorities.


The Sugar Smart campaign was highly successful against its objectives as outlined in the table below:



  •    TNS BMRB pre & post general population survey with mothers of children aged 5 – 11.
  •    Kantar sales data.

·    JCDecaux Electronic Point of Sale controlled study.