Public Communication Campaigns on Obesity Awareness

According to the WHO (2015), the number of people with obesity has increased by more than 100 percent since 1980. By 2014, there was a total population of 1.9 billion overweight adults worldwide. Of these, 600 million were obese. According to these results, 39 percent of the world’s population is overweight while 13 % is obese. Moreover, more than 42 million children aged below the age of 5 were obese by 2013. Obesity awareness is a necessary public communication campaign because of the scope of the problem, the lack of trust in expert information and the toll of deaths associated with it, and can be effectively implemented by using a combination of media instruments, government influence and alteration of behavior at both an individual and organizational level.

The Importance of Public Communication Campaign

Obesity awareness will reduce the number of deaths associated with obesity. According to Bleich, Blendon and Adams (2007), there are over 400,000 preventable deaths in the US that could be prevented by engaging in a healthy lifestyle. According to these individuals, these are all deaths that are associated with obesity and related conditions. The authors argue that these conditions account for between 6 to 10 percent of US national health expenditures. They affect around a third of the US adult population. If public campaigns are launched to create obesity awareness, these numbers could be lowered.

Public communication campaigns on obesity awareness will help to deliver the right information to the right populations. Often, public communication campaigns are targeted on specific populations that are affected by a specific issue. Bleich, Blendon and Adams (2007) argue that the public communication gives experts a chance to share and interpret risk information with the public. This creates increased understanding of risky behaviors as well as ways to combat or resolve them.

Public communication efforts have been very effective in other measures and could be just as effective in the fight against obesity. In the fights against HIV/AIDS and tobacco smoking, for example, there has been a positive impact (Bleich, Blendon and Adams, 2007). Since the public communication campaigns were launched in the 1990s, the number of people engaging in the risky behavior associated with these two situations has greatly declined. In a similar way, if public communication campaigns are launched to create awareness of obesity, a positive impact is to be expected.

Creating awareness involves enhancing the faith in experts. A big number of people do not have faith in what they read in books about obesity. With proper approaches, the faith in expert knowledge could be improved. There has also been a declining trust in government institutions. Due to the failure of the government to address policy issues affecting the populations, people do not trust the government. According to Bleich, Blendon and Adams (2007), there is an obvious relationship between trust and awareness. If trust is built, there is a higher likelihood that people will trust the recommendations made by experts.

Public communication campaigns will help to resolve the issue of obesity at various levels. The capability to reach individuals at the level of their respective institutions is only the preserve of public communication campaigns. They are intended to reach individuals in their respective social groups and influence their behaviors. Specific social groups that will be affected by public communication campaigns will include schools, churches and workplaces. This way, information will be developed so as to be more effective for specific age groups. If a group is campaigning against obesity in children for example, it will create information that is easy to understand and develop methods that are easier for children to understand. One specific method that would be effective among children is by using narratives told in easy language to provide the necessary information to children. At workplaces, the information could be provided so as to be useful for both parents and their children. Parents would be encouraged to get involved in healthy behavior along with their children and spouses. This way, it would be much easier to fight the battle of obesity.

Communication campaigns will help to provide a platform for foundations as well as other organizations to provide their input towards the eradication of obesity. According to Dorfman, Ervice, and Woodluff (2002), the communications have slowly gained eminence in the past few years. Funders have discovered the potential of communication campaigns and are heavily investing in them. Investing in this option of creating obesity awareness will enable various shareholders an opportunity to fight obesity.

Public communication campaigns will assist in shaping the environment to be more supportive of the fight against obesity. With public communication campaigns, the government is going to be more likely to create laws that govern the foods in the market so that they are less likely to aid obesity. The sensitization that comes with public communication campaigns also facilitates a reduced demand for unhealthy foods and a subsequent alteration of such foods so that they are healthier. With such efforts, there is a likelihood that less people are going to offer unhealthy foods in their organization. This is going to lead to a reduced prevalence of obesity and its associated conditions.

Communication campaigns are more likely to be trusted than are the other sources of information. In most cases, people interact more closely with the media. If integrated into the media, people are going to view the departure from unhealthy behaviors as the universal norm and be more likely to stop engaging in unhealthy behaviors. In essence, public communication campaigns target to change the norms of the people. By so doing, people who engage in the in unhealthy behavior will opt for more healthy ones.

Communication campaigns will enable the creation of those frameworks that are necessary for the effective implementation of healthy behaviors. As noted by Dorfman, Ervice, and Woodluff (2002), sometimes the tactics that are laid down do not align with the goals that are stated. Children may want to engage into a healthy lifestyle but lack the necessary resources to enable this. There may, for instance, not be time allocated to exercises in the school. The children may also not be able to access healthy meals if only unhealthy meals are available at home or school. This way, the efforts put towards acquiring a healthy lifestyle for these children may fail. If, instead, school and restaurants are required to both offer a healthy diet and allocate time for physical exercises, the battle against obesity will be half won. Public communication campaigns close this gap by offering the necessary pressure to make agencies take the necessary steps towards offering healthy options to their customers. It also leads to the implementation of the laws that are necessary to see the proper change of behaviors.

Public communication campaigns provide a platform through which the various shareholders can engage. Public communication enables everyone who has interests in an endeavor to participate in seeing that specific objectives are achieved. In this case, the health system, the government and the school system would all require coming together along with their audience to fight together against their common enemy. If obesity is approached in this manner, the chances of succeeding in the fight against are much more likely. The multiple groups that are fighting against obesity will take specific roles and work towards achieving their own objectives. This way, the groups whose working methods are not working would be required to put more effort in playing their role.

Public communication campaigns are also educative to a significant level. While people have a sketchy level of knowledge on what is required of them, this knowledge is often insufficient. In the case of obesity, people may not be able to tell which foods are healthy and which are not or to determine the required level of exercise (MacLean et al., 2008). With the expert advice offered through communication campaigns, this problem is resolved.

Public communication campaigns are coupled with evaluation mechanisms to measure the effectiveness of the methods used. It would therefore be more reliable to find a permanent solution to the problem of obesity in the long-run. Moreover, it would be easy for public communication campaigns to use multiple mechanisms to provide a solution to the problem. The use of public communication campaigns is one sure method of finding a solution to obesity. The various theories regarding communication campaigns and behavior change could all be tested for viability and applied effectively.

The Way Forward

There are multiple ways through which public communication campaigns could be run to achieve the desired results. In this case, the battle against obesity should be two-fold. First, it should serve to change the behaviors that lead to obesity. This would require informing people about the need to engage in a healthy diet as well as regular physical exercise. This would require the people changing their choices at the store or restaurant and to allocate time to the right activities. Second, communication campaigns should seek to influence the systems so that they are more reliable in regard to their support for the endeavor seeking to eliminate obesity or reduce its impact in the society. The government should develop laws to govern the way in which organizations work to ensure that such organizations do not contribute to the growth obesity. For consistency in this regard, the government should create laws that create guidelines for such organizations. Organizations contributing to the growth of obesity should also be required to be involved in the fight against it. This way, the fight against obesity against obesity will have a higher following. This has been seen to work in the past. In the fight against cigarette smoking, the government required organizations to participate in sensitizing people against cigarette smoking hence leading in a reduced prevalence in cigarette smoking. In s similar manner, this method is likely to work if people in the food industry should be required to fight against obesity.

Stakeholders                  

The best way to approach the issue of obesity awareness is by using a combination of top-down leadership and a bottom-up mobilization of support (Borys et al., 2011).  This approach promotes the participation of various stakeholders at the central level. Such stakeholders could include support groups endorsed by various ministries, NGOs, health organizations, and private partners. The program is also required to be led by an independent committee of professionals who will be required to play an advisory role in the program.

The leadership also trains a local individual who is elected by the local council. This individual has multiple roles in the program. First, he coordinates the operations of the program locally. Secondly, he is charged with the role of mobilizing local stakeholders in the given state or country. This methodology aims at mobilizing stakeholders at all levels across the private and public sectors. It is critical for this program to enjoy strong scientific input, support services, sustainable resources, and political commitment. The mechanisms in this methodology are praised by Borys et al. (2011). They say that the method is integral, most specifically to the prevention of children obesity.

At the central level, Borys et al. (2011) recommend the inclusion of public organizations and ministries as well as scientists. These are the individuals who are going to provide the public communication with reliable regulations and information in the course of the campaign. They also enrich the campaigning persons with the recommended standards of health, physical activity and diet. Without their support, the organization heading this venture would come with a lot of conflict.

Theories of Behavior Change

One thing that must be properly promoted for public communication campaigns to succeed is a change in behavior. If people do not change their eating habits, their level of exercise and their overall health, they are unlikely to develop the awareness that is required in the control and eradication of obesity. Obesity requires that individuals change their behaviors so that there are able to reduce their bodies’ fat content (Annesi, 2011). Specifically, such individuals would be required to adopt a lifestyle with low calorie intake and sufficient physical exercise. There are several theories that have been used in the control of certain behaviors and that could be used in the control and eradication of obesity.

In essence, there is no one accepted mechanism that is universally accepted to be reliable in changing the behavior of people so that they are less likely to become obese (HM Government, 2009). It is therefore necessary for the team on the ground to determine the right mechanism to apply in a certain community by observing previous communication campaigns that are similar or closely related to obesity.  To be effective however, there is need for the mechanisms to be measured regularly to determine their level of effectiveness.

The first step in creating a change in unhealthy behaviors is by creating the right environment for the development of proper healthy behaviors. First, people need to be trained how to determine their status with regard to obesity. According to HM Government (2009), a significant number of people do not whether or not they are obese. Compared to other risky behaviors, for example smoking, this places obesity at a disadvantaged position. People who do not consider themselves obese may not find the significance of the information being provided by the campaigning teams. The first form of awareness would be to inform people what it comprises to be obese and how to determine whether one is obese. With this knowledge, it is much easier to handle the other problem of preventing obesity and controlling cases of obesity. At this point, it would be necessary to be watchful of issues such as stigmatization, diet and physical activity. Cases of obesity that exist already need not be worsened by stigmatization (MacLean et al., 2008). The obesity awareness campaigns should not serve to stigmatize against those people in the course of fighting obesity.

The social cognitive theory best explains the importance of informing people about the need for a change in behavior. According to this theory, people only make changes to their behaviors only when they know that their current behaviors are harmful to them (Bleich, Blendon & Adams, 2007). Moreover, it would also be important to make them understand the benefits of a healthy diet along with other behaviors that will promote obesity. In the case of obesity, people should be informed about the dangers that are associated with obesity. Those who are either obesity or overweight will change their habits so as not to advance their level of obesity as well as other conditions that are associated with obesity.

The campaigners should also create a clear relationship between the change in behavior and intended goals. It is necessary that people understand the role of a healthy diet and exercise to weight loss. If people do not see how exercising, for example, will cause weight loss to them, then they are unlikely to engage in exercise. On the other hand, if individuals associate exercising to weight loss to better health, they are more likely to engage in physical activity with the intention of preventing or controlling obesity. According to Olander et al. (2013), the relationship between weight loss and obesity is not straight forward to everyone. The public communication campaign should help in creating awareness in this regard.

Platforms

Public awareness’ campaigns can be moved on various dimensions. It is best to engage the media at all levels. The media should be engaged in creating awareness. It is best to use a combination of various methods including commercials, advertisements, posters, and brochures. By using a variety of platforms, the capacity of the campaign is increased. In the case of obesity awareness, the campaigns should seek to create awareness on the ways of determining whether one has obesity, explain the scope of the problem and explain how best to control and prevent obesity to the problem. It should also sensitize organizations to engage in responsible behavior. All stakeholders should be involved to ensure completeness of the campaign. With a successful campaign, individuals will understand what their risk is and try to avoid it. They will also attempt to avoid organizations which engage in wrong practices. By so doing, such organizations will also see the need to change their practices as well as engage in the campaign to win back the trust of its consumers.

Conclusion

Obesity has become a global problem. It promotes the development of risky conditions including cancer, diabetes and heart disease. For this reason, it is necessary to engage in a public communication campaign. The campaign should seek to inform people about the scope of the obesity problem and how well to avoid or prevent obesity. The campaign should also seek to engage the government as well as other public and private institutions to create a proper environment for the departure from risky behavior. These are the organizations that help promote the creation of necessary laws to govern organizational practices.

References

Annesi, J. (2011). Letters: Obesity Behavior Change. The Permanente Journal15(1), 91. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3048653/

Bleich, S., Blendon, R., & Adams, A. (2007). Trust in Scientific Experts on Obesity: Implications for Awareness and Behavior Change. Obesity15(8), 2145-2156. doi:10.1038/oby.2007.255

Borys, J., Le Bodo, Y., Jebb, S., Seidell, J., Summerbell, C., & Richard, D. et al. (2011). EPODE approach for childhood obesity prevention: methods, progress and international development.Obesity Reviews13(4), 299-315. doi:10.1111/j.1467-789x.2011.00950.x

Dorfman, L., Ervice J., Woodruff, K. (2002). Voices for change: A taxonomy of public communications campaigns and their evaluation challenges. Berkeley, CA: Berkeley Media Studies Group

Gersbach, H. (2013). Campaigns, political mobility, and communication. Public Choice161(1-2), 31-49. doi:10.1007/s11127-013-0125-3

HM Government (2009).  Change for Life Marketing Strategy: In support of healthy weight, healthy lives. London

MacLean, L., Edwards, N., Garrard, M., Sims-Jones, N., Clinton, K., & Ashley, L. (2008). Obesity, stigma and public health planning. Health Promotion International24(1), 88-93. doi:10.1093/heapro/dan041

Olander, E., Fletcher, H., Williams, S., Atkinson, L., Turner, A., & French, D. (2013). What are the most effective techniques in changing obese individuals’ physical activity self-efficacy and behaviour: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act10(1), 29. doi:10.1186/1479-5868-10-29

WHO,. (2015). Obesity and overweight. Retrieved 26 January 2015, from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs311/en/

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