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12-09-2012 | General practice | Article

Message delivery vital to successful obesity prevention


Free abstract

medwireNews: The way that an anti-obesity message is delivered to people who are overweight or obese impacts dramatically on how successful campaigns are at motivating people to lose weight, say researchers.

Many public health campaigns set up to help fight obesity have been criticized for stigmatizing the people they were created to help.

To investigate what constitutes a successful anti-obesity campaign, Rebecca Puhl (Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, USA) and colleagues carried out a survey to determine how motivational 10 different messages from major anti-obesity campaigns in the USA, Australia, and the UK were for 1014 adults and how likely they would be to lose weight as a result of seeing or hearing the message.

As reported in the International Journal of Obesity, the team found that the messages given the most favorable scores were those that promoted or focused on increasing healthy behaviors such as increasing fruit and vegetable consumption, as promoted by the "five-a-day" campaign.

Similarly, those that promoted more general healthy behaviors such as the "Let's move" campaign in the USA that encourages people to "learn the facts, eat healthy, get active, take action" and those focused on improving confidence and helping people to help themselves were also positively rated for motivation.

Notably, the campaigns and messages rated as most positive and motivational did not mention obesity at all.

Anti-obesity campaigns that have already been publicly criticized for their stigmatizing content, such as the Children's Health Care of Atlanta Campaign, which displayed messages such as "being fat takes the fun out of being a kid" and "chubby kids may not outlive their parents," were rated as being stigmatizing rather than motivational.

Other messages that were considered unhelpful for motivating weight loss and stigmatizing were "childhood obesity is child abuse" and "too much screen time, too much kid."

"By stigmatizing obesity or individuals struggling with their weight, campaigns can alienate the audience they intend to motivate and hinder the behaviors they intend to encourage," said Puhl in a press statement.

"Public health campaigns that are designed to address obesity should carefully consider the kinds of messages that are disseminated, so that those who are struggling with obesity can be supported in their efforts to become healthier, rather than shamed and stigmatized."

By Helen Albert, Senior medwireNews Reporter

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