I came across this article today on the BBC web site about the “Five a day” healthy eating campaign which has been running in the UK since the 1980’s and it’s prompted me to offer some thoughts.

Apart from making me feel quite guilty about my Christmas and New Year eating the article reminded me about this classic health promotion campaign, with it’s simple, easy to follow mantra that eating five portions of fruit or veg a day is the secret to good health. What interested me in particular about the article though is it exposes the space between the people who know stuff, and the people who communicate it.

Looking at the background to the campaign it’s clear that there is actually little evidence for it’s core strap line. There can be no doubt that eating more fruit and veg is good for you, and the campaign was and is a positive influence within society, but there is a gap between this and the specific “Five a Day” statement.

Why not four, why not six (one response from a Canadian reader on the BBC web site says it is five to ten portions recommended each day). The answer is, of course from a PR point of view, that the language has to be simple and memorable and it’s specific detail is not important as long as it covers the essence of the message.

Yet when a message carries with it a suggestion of a scientific basis I believe this can become an issue , and part of the Five a day campaign’s history has, almost from the start, been an undercurrent of questioning it’s validity.

What is a portion? What constitutes fruit and veg? Does preparation have a bearing? Now, perhaps the very act of asking these questions achieves the campaign’s aim to make us more aware of the importance of what we eat on our health, but as far as advice or guidance is concerned it leaves much to be desired.

All in all, a classic health promotion campaign and an interesting article from the BBC about it, and one that prompts real consideration as to how important the interface between science and PR is.