Media Analysis: Healthy diets gain press exposure

With Channel 4 show You Are What You Eat to be spun off into a monthly magazine, Tom Williams explores the best routes for getting press coverage on healthy-eating matters and how research can play its part.

Publisher Brooklands Group's deal to turn Celador's You Are What You Eat Channel 4 show into a monthly publication is a timely innovation, given the Government's recent Public Health White Paper and the media fixation with obesity and heart disease.

The magazine, which launches in January with a £2.60 cover price, stands to benefit from the show's existing TV audience of around four and a half million. The series has already spawned a successful book.

Brooklands chief executive Darren Styles, who was last week interviewing candidates to edit the magazine, says it will be based around the focus of the programme in which Dr Gillian McKeith analyses the diet of a couple, but will build on her advice with recipes based on the food groups she recommends. There will also be investigative pieces looking at different parts of the food industry.

Styles says: 'PROs with products they think fit with the healthy-eating agenda should talk to us.'

Niche targeting

Last month World Cancer Research Fund launched a magazine called Fresh, specifically targeted at students with healthy-eating ideas.

However, the market for magazines purely about healthy eating is hardly buzzing. Healthy Living, originally a Tesco magazine, is now defunct after its publisher Fox Publishing went into administration in August.

The public-health agenda has prompted major food companies to be seen as a source, rather than the enemy, of a healthy diet.

With You Are What You Eat entering a nascent field, PROs who want to use the healthy eating debate to push products are still better served by more mainstream publications. Lexis PR head of consumer Fiona Jolly, who represents Captain Morgan's Spiced Rum, says she doubts consumers would 'want to buy titles dedicated to just healthy eating - but they might want to buy publications that also have tips on fitness and beauty'.

Slimmer, Healthier, Fitter editor Rachel Callen points out that 'a lot of what already exists (in publishing) is focused on healthy eating'.

Her magazine has up to 20 pages of healthy-eating recipes per issue and devotes over half of its 60-page editorial content to the subject, she says.

Manning Selvage & Lee director Louise Watson, who has worked for Cadbury Schweppes and Starbucks, holds that health-conscious consumers are split between those who are 'interested in how what they eat will affect their health and their weight, and those who are health investors, that is to say people who eat healthy foods because it makes them feel better'.

According to The Red Consultancy chief executive Mike Morgan - whose clients include McDonald's and McVities Go Ahead - women's magazines still carry the most in-depth coverage of healthy-eating issues, particularly for PROs pitching the 'healthy option' type of food range.

But Morgan also identifies nutrition writers on national newspapers as likely to take a real interest in out-and-out healthy products such as foods rich in omega oils.

Research matters

For PROs extolling the health benefits of a product to nutrition writers, a figure of authority who has conducted some meaningful research is often essential.

The nationals frequenty use freelances for their healthy-eating slots, at least in part because these writers tend to be qualified nutritionists who know the science.

Angela Dowden is one such journalist. She puts together the Daily Mirror's trolley test - an eye-catching box that tries 'the supermarket foods to find out which are the healthiest' - and writes the Your Body double-page spread in Woman.

'I like PROs to be upfront with the information and not pack everything in PR speak as I am more than likely to see through it as dubious,' Dowden says. 'Bringing nutritionists along does make a lot of difference because I am a qualified nutritionist.

'It's great to get a pack of research with the name and contact details of the person who actually did the work so that I can get it straight from the horse's mouth,' she adds.

But Morgan warns that using scientific research as the cornerstone of a story pitch can backfire if it isn't supported rigorously.

So it is crucial to know your stuff before selling into a press weary of people and companies that might be overly eager to jump onto the public-health bandwagon.

HEALTHY-EATING WRITERS

- Angela Dowden writes for the Daily Mirror's trolley test (020 7510 3000) and Woman's Your Body (020 7261 7023, woman@ipcmedia.com)

- Annette Lachowski, food and health editor, Slimmer, Healthier, Fitter (01206 505 985, annettel@aceville.co.uk)

- Rebecca Smith, health reporter, Evening Standard, (020 7938 6000, rebecca.smith@standard.co.uk).

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