A recent report from the National Obesity Forum and the Public Health Collaboration: “Eat fat, cut the carbs and avoid snacking to reverse obesity and Type 2 Diabetes” has advised that eating fat doesn’t actually made us fat and encourage the public to eat more of it.

However, Public Health England disagree and say this new advice to eat more fat is ‘irresponsible’ and potentially deadly and that their own advice is far more robust and actually based on the best evidence.

Again, more confusing and conflicting information about being healthy and attempting to reduce the obesity crisis that is costing our beloved NHS £4.2bn a year.

This got me thinking about the role communications plays in educating the public on healthy eating and why the NHS can’t seem to get it right despite £bns in investment.

Emotional advertising isn’t working

Where emotional public campaigns have been successful in helping people drive slower or quit smoking, it just doesn’t seem to have the same effect on obesity. The below advert ran in America in 2014 and featured a man called Jim who ended up in hospital due to poor diet and lifestyle choices. Reports claimed that this did little to change the public’s eating – why?

Well firstly, a lot of obese people are in pure denial that they are in the same position as “Jim”. You only need to watch shows such as Channel 4’s Secret Eaters to understand that people sometimes really don’t understand why they’re overweight. This basically means that this advertising is completely irrelevant to them.

Scaremongering isn’t working

What is with all the moody, scary advertising such as Jim and the terrifying slug warning us about salt intake? There seems to be a lot of focus on making people feel bad about their weight when obesity has been proven time and time again to be caused by low self-esteem.

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Lets look at how a brand emotionally engages with a consumer. I just spotted a Missguided ad so we’ll use that as an example. Lots of beautiful girls running around on a beach, smiling, laughing and looking great. You don’t see Missguided using people moping around in ugly clothes feeling sorry for themselves – looking at other people with jealousy, scared they won’t fit in because they don’t have the latest fashions.

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An analysis from Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab found that negative messages — like “Eat healthy foods or lose years off your life!” — are effective for some audiences particularly knowledgeable in the field. However, positive messages on what someone should be eating and why it is good for them — such as “By eating healthfully, people can gain positive body image or energy” — tend to work better for a general audience that is less knowledgeable about nutrition.

Why not use this study and focus public health campaigns on how great you would feel if you brought more balance to your life – sell them the dream! Your skin would be better, you’d have more energy – you’d live longer. Not to mention the by-products of learning to cook delicious meals and gaining new hobbies. Although Change 4 Life attempted to show this, it just came across as patronising through the use of cartoons and bright colours.

The channels used aren’t working

The NHS is a big fan of traditional media – print and TV and are not recognising the power of social media in engaging the public in being healthy. Facebook for example holds every single demographic out there – it is an untapped resource for the NHS in engaging with the general public.

The NHS also are subsiding in the wrong areas – people do not need to join Weight Watchers to lose weight, likewise they do not need to join a gym to lose weight. In fact most health professionals claim that exercise is useless without a good diet anyway.

There is a wealth of information on social channels to help people make better eating decisions – this is one of the most effective I feel from PT duo The Lean Machines on Youtube. Simply showing what a healthy balanced shop looks like accompanied by some recipe ideas can be extremely helpful.

Stop preaching convenience

Some of the material out there tries to claim that changing your lifestyle is EASY! Just take the stairs today or swap white bread for brown bread. Unfortunately, a healthy lifestyle is not that convenient. You need time to make meals from scratch and you need time to be active. This time eats into television and socialising.

Preparation helps ease the pain of this truth! Just a couple of hours a week to cook and prep meals, sauces and snacks for the week can save so much time. Where is the NHS sponsored material on this?

Recognise the political problem

We have become a capitalist nation of greedy FMCG companies profiting from our obesity crisis. Partnerships, promotions and price wars mean that people can get a whole trolley of processed junk food for the week for under £15.

People complain that healthy food is too expensive – but should we not be asking, why is junk food so cheap? Campaigns to help reverse this message or subsidies for fresh ingredients would help this massively.

More pressure needs to be put on the convenience food industry. I am no saint by the way! I do indulge in a ready meal now and again but I am SHOCKED by the amount of processed rubbish in our food aisles in relation to fresh or unprocessed ingredients. Take the pasta aisle for example – ready made pasta sachets (because 10 mins is too long to cook pasta) pot noodles and sugary sauces. In some supermarkets I even struggle to find the wholemeal alternatives as there is so much white pasta on display.

Report after report rises out of the woodwork – “Carbs are better for you than fat” “don’t count calories as some are better than others” “cut carbs to lose weight”. These are all very conflicting and don’t simply highlight that the issue is sugar, salt and additives that are held in convenience foods. Could this be because of the politics?

So there you have it – the reasons I believe the anti-obesity campaigns are not working. We have a long way to go before we tackle the politics behind supplying the nation with healthy foods but there is certainly more we could be doing through social media and PR to help educate the public about making better choices.

What are your thoughts?

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