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Cadbury is following in Walkers’ footsteps and running its own ‘vouchers for schools’ campaign aimed at helping schools obtain sports equipment. The scheme has led to criticism from public health bodies but such is the demand from schools and concerned parents for ‘free’ school equipment that the scheme will probably succeed.

Health officials are heavily criticising Cadbury’s ‘Sports for Schools’ marketing initiative as an attempt to mislead children into associating chocolate with fitness. Through the scheme, schools organise children’s collection of vouchers, and redeem the vouchers for sports equipment. The scheme is similar to Walkers’ Crisps ‘Books for Schools’ campaign – Walkers’ scheme was condemned for making teachers and parents encourage children’s snacking habits. However, Cadbury has taken the issue a step further by associating its product with healthy pursuits.

Critics fear that Cadbury’s new scheme will encourage children to believe that obesity has nothing to do with diet and everything to do with exercise. While no one will deny the value of exercise for growing children, high chocolate consumption will undo all the benefits. The National Obesity Forum says there is some concern over Cadbury making a positive connection between the two.

However, Cadbury’s scheme is likely to be a success, for much the same reason that Walkers’ scheme was. There is widespread concern about childhood obesity, and parents, teachers and the government want to do something about it. However, the money required is in short supply in education, particularly for non-core activities such as sports. If Cadbury can stress the benefits of exercise, while minimising perceptions of the negative effects of increased chocolate consumption, teachers and parents will be more inclined to encourage children to collect the vouchers.

Marketing through schools is likely to become increasingly common – children are a captive audience at school and marketing is reinforced by authority figures that are keen to capitalise on such schemes. However, forewarned by the rapid development of the same trend in America, health bodies are forearmed and more than willing to fight for their cause – that of preventing children from having their impressions of healthy food skewed by promotional offers from confectionery and soft drink companies.

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