Subway's multi-layered healthy lifestyle initiative is a comprehensive programme aimed at children and their families that extends the breadth of the chain's offering to health conscious consumers. By actively selling healthy eating to youngsters, Subway seems sure to further improve its healthy image in comparison to fastfood rivals such as McDonald's.

Subway has announced plans to return its spokesperson Jared Fogle to its ad campaigns as part of its new F.R.E.S.H. Steps health initiative. Fogle, who lost nearly 250lbs by eating Subway sandwiches, faded from Subway's advertising campaigns a year ago as the company sought to widen its image. The campaign, aimed at educating children and their families about childhood obesity, will take up around 20% of Subway's advertising budget this year.

This latest marketing push follows Subway's recent introduction of Atkins-friendly fare, which has so far proved popular - though it is not a part of the F.R.E.S.H. Steps initiative. The chain clearly feels that an emphasis on health is an effective means of continuing its growth in the competitive US fast food market.

According to Subway, the F.R.E.S.H. Steps scheme is intended to encourage children and their parents to "Feel Responsible, Energised, Satisfied, and Happy", and includes classroom education, physical activity programmes and in store promotions. As part of the programme, Subway will offer a new menu specifically for youngsters, including an activity-based toy to encourage physical activity.

Subway's announcement comes hot on the heels of an anti-obesity programme launched by McDonald's. The Go Active! campaign launched menu alternatives such as the Adult Happy Meal, which includes a pedometer and a pamphlet on healthier lifestyles. The programme, however, is geared more toward adults than children, with the show "Get Moving with Ronald McDonald" its strongest encouragement for youngsters. Subway's initiative gives the sandwich chain a head start in this area.

By educating children, the sandwich chain is cleverly building awareness of health issues among young consumers, who are likely to internalise the brand's message, while also pleasing parents with its anti-obesity message. The new F.R.E.S.H. Steps campaign shows that Subway still has plenty of ideas up its sleeve to reinforce its position as a healthy foodservice outlet. Rivals such as McDonald's have a lot of catching up to do.

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