Health experts and parents have slammed the UK government over a recent anti-obesity advertisement, branding the popular fairy cakes fatal.
"Is a premature death so tempting?" challenges the ad taken out by the Department of Health, showing a young girl of healthy appearance biting into a fairy cake.
AdvertisementAnother advertisement is equally scary. It shows a young boy playing a video game and is captioned: "Risk an early death, do nothing".
The Department of Health reportedly spent £500,000 on the two advertisements aimed at mothers, and placed in women's weekly magazines. The government has allocated a huge £75 million for the campaign. It is the fairy cake ad that has attracted a lot of flak.
While all efforts to combat the obesity epidemic were welcome, it would be stupid to demonise treats or frighten children, critics said.
A discussion forum on the popular website Mumsnet - used by the advert's target audience - saw mothers condemn it as "ridiculous" and "counterproductive" and accuse it of "treating food like poison."
Among dozens of mothers who objected to its message, several expressed fears that linking occasional treats to obesity was the sort of message that was likely to trigger eating disorders and health fears among young girls.
Experts asserted that home-cooked party treats were not the threat they were being made out to be by the adverts.
Tam Fry, from the National Obesity Forum described the initiative as sending out "an absolutely ludicrous message."
"The idea that a cupcake will kill you is totally over the top, and for that reason the whole thing is totally counterproductive.
"Obviously cakes have to be an occasional treat, but the idea that a healthy child eating a cupcake at a party is dicing with death is absolutely crazy. Parents will switch off," he said.
Chef and TV personality Delia Smith said: "I think they have picked the wrong target by focusing on home cooking. I am pretty sure the advent of wall to wall advertising of junk food and confectionary has played a bigger part in the obesity crisis than mothers baking cakes.
"There is nothing wrong with the occasional treat, I don't think unhealthy food exists, only unhealthy diets. I think it sends out entirely the wrong message," the chef said.
Nutrition expert Fiona Kirk said she was disappointed by the use of scare tactics, when parents of children with a weight problem needed to be educated about a healthy diet, not frightened.
Of the Government website 4yourkids, she said: "If you get past the advert and log on to the advice, it is all sensible stuff.
The question is scare tactics like these can just make people think 'oh to hell with it', or be frightened to death, so they don't carry on reading."
She was among many who questioned the use of young children of healthy weight in campaigns about obesity.
"Let's be honest, if you are going to have a picture, it should be of a fat child eating junk food," she said.
Geraldine Holden, editor of website Mumsnet, said many mothers felt that the use of scare tactics would backfire.
"No one is denying that child obesity is a problem, but we don't want food to become a joyless experience for children - or for their parents, who are already stressed about getting enough fruit and vegetables down their kids.
"Parents don't want to be made to feel guilty if they give their child a cake or a biscuit. Demonising foods like fairy cakes, which are fun to make at home, is a bit counterproductive and we risk giving children complexes about food."
A spokesman for the Department of Health told Laura Donnelly of Telegraph that the campaign was based on extensive research.
He insisted the two adverts, which have been backed by charities Diabetes UK, Cancer Research UK and The British Heart Foundation, did not use scare tactics, but "straightforward language" and pointed out that obesity costs the NHS £4.2 billion a year.
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