Can communications make us thinner?
Filed under: Health | Tags: blog, campaign, communications, Elmo, epidemic, Facebook, First Lady, health, Let's Move, Malia, Michelle Obama, obesity, Sasha, social media, tax, Walmart |
Last week, some disturbing news came out about our national obesity epidemic. Twenty years ago, no state had an obesity rate above 15 percent. Today, just one state has a rate lower than 20 percent (Colorado), according to a report from the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Unless you’ve had your head stuck in the ground, you know that this means expensive things for our taxpayer-funded state and federal health care. And, obviously, it means the quality of life for our citizens and–most upsetting–our children is on the decline.
What role can strategic communications play in tackling this growing (puns abound in this post) epidemic? Because this is such a meaty (warned you) issue, I’m making this a three-part series. First, I’ll explore one of the highest profile campaigns to encourage healthier lifestyles for kids in the US–what’s working, what’s not. Then, I’ll examine lessons learned from issues that weight loss campaigns are often compared to: smoking cessation, seatbelts and skin cancer prevention (3 S’s!). Finally, I’ll share some ideas for ways communications could make a difference.
Why has obesity become such a problem in the US? Pick a reason:
-More fructose/salt/saturated fats in foods.
-Processed foods more affordable and available than fresh produce (note: wealthier people less likely to be obese).
-Packaged food less labor intensive to prepare at home or school.
-Fast food french fries are DELICIOUS and CHEAP!
-Restaurant portions are ridiculously large.
-Less time/safe environments for exercise for kids and adults.
-Vicious cycle: obese parents more likely to raise obese children.
-Metabolic disorders possibly triggered by poor eating habits hard to reverse.
-Against human nature to sacrifice short-term pleasure to optimize for long-term health.
This is just a sampling of the myriad causes, but what is clear is that this is a complex problem at risk of becoming intractable. Enter First Lady Michelle Obama and her Let’s Move! campaign for healthier kids. In addition to taking full advantage of the media spotlight that follows her organic-gardening toned-arm fashionable self, Michelle Obama has embraced social media to promote her agenda. On Facebook, Let’s Move! has reached almost 70,000 likes by employing a personal tone, creating content variety, and using contests to engage the public. While its unlikely that she’s directly reaching her younger target audience (Facebook isn’t big with the elementary school set), she is reaching their parents and role models. The first daughters are popular figures with younger kids, and there is certainly overlap between Michelle’s efforts and the “brand identities” of Malia and Sasha. Obama is also savvy about engaging other celebrities, including Elmo, to promote her cause. The Let’s Move! website also provides guidance and links for schools to implement with support from USDA. Finally, she keeps the message positive, neutralizing most critics by focusing on healthier choices rather than finger wagging.
So, are we likely to witness a reversal of current obesity trends as a result of this campaign? Too soon to tell, but the First Lady is making headway. Today, she announced partnerships with some of the nation’s largest grocers to tackle the country’s “food deserts.” Leslie Dach, EVP of corporate affairs at Walmart, gave her credit: “The first lady’s efforts in these areas have helped focus our real estate process, to take a particular look at these areas as we build out our real estate plans.” We’re also starting to see legislation pop up around the country requiring healthier school lunches. To be sure, the odds are stacked against her. The Seattle Times ran a series in June focused on the area’s ostensibly leading edge anti-obesity programs, and the results are disappointing. Ease, cost deliciousness and habit are powerful adversaries. Strategic communications campaigns can only do so much, but kudos to Michelle Obama for realizing this is a battle we can’t watch from the sidelines.
Does hope spring eternal from campaigns that have gone before, or is it time to drown our sorrows in a bag of BBQ Lays? Stay tuned….