A taxpayer-funded national obesity campaign, Swap It, Don't Stop It, has had a minimal impact in preventing obesity, a new evaluation has shown.
The four-year print, television and radio campaign urged people to swap junk food for healthier options or walk to work instead of driving, all via a blue cartoon character called Eric.
The federal government evaluation of Swap It, which is the second phase of the federal government's $41 million anti-obesity campaign, showed the cut-through and reach of the campaign to its target audience of Australians aged 25 to 65, was lower than expected.
''There was evidence of a small number of positive changes in awareness, attitudes and behaviours relating to healthy lifestyles and chronic diseases and that some members of the target audiences had taken action in line with the campaign's 'how to' messages,'' the Australian National Preventive Health Agency evaluation said.
Health experts said the findings showed the campaign was a ''Band-Aid'' solution to the country's obesity problem.
The report showed 14 per cent of the target audience had ''swapped'' something in their life due to the campaign.
A Sydney dietician, Lydia Jade Turner, said the campaign took the wrong approach in preventing obesity by focusing on superficial actions that did not deal with the causes of obesity. ''The focus instead should be on promoting health-giving behaviours independent of impact on weight and shape,'' she said.
A sociologist at Sydney University, Deborah Lupton, agreed the campaign was a sticking-plaster response to obesity and did not address deeper societal issues of why people eat too much.
''What these campaigns seem to do … is they raise people's awareness and they do increase information. But there is a big difference between that and people actually making long-term changes,'' she said.
The federal government said the campaign had been effective in promoting behavioural change, a spokesman for the Health Minister, Tanya Plibersek, said.
The minister's office said a large number of Australians had engaged with the Swap It campaign, with 740,000 visits to its website and more than 50,000 people downloading the iPhone app.