Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Michigan Obesity Site Pushes Awareness, Not Action

I noticed a TV 8 story about the State of Michigan launching a new web site to fight obesity. I was interested, not because  I am obese or smoke or don't have healthy recipes, but because you read or hear about obesity constantly and I was curious to know what the state is doing to address it.

It's a noble goal. And the information on the web site is good information--tips, tools, quizzes and other items to inform people about healthy behaviors.

My problem is that  the goal is to change behavior, but the effort is mostly the old-fashioned "get the word out." State officials are quoted in the TV 8 piece as saying people KNOW they're overweight but they don't DO anything about it. So why do they communicate  as if people lack knowledge instead of truly addressing the behavioral problem.

Students in my fundamentals of PR class (and subsequent ones) learn that there are essentially three types of objectives in public relations campaigns, including health campaigns like this one. I call them the "3 As": awareness, attitude, and action. You generally want to change one or more of those in your target public. But too many clients, co-workers and amateurs say "we just need to raise awareness" or "we need to get the word out." That often is only useful if you ONLY want people to be aware, but not so much to yield attitudinal or behavioral change.

The state's web site is useful, but I wonder how effective it will be without other tactics and communication strategies that address people's attitudes about health, themselves, their responsibility and so forth. Also, if they state the largest problem is people's inaction, then dumping info--some of which they may already have--on a web site is not likely to get them any more active.

In other words, the campaign against obesity needs more than information to address deeper objectives. Each of the 3 As requires a different type of communication strategy:


Persuasive  and motivational strategies  would include tactics that push messages to people, as opposed to expecting them to visit a web site on the basis  of news  articles. These might include ads in appropriate  media, point-of-purchase display messages about healthy food, speaking opportunities  at public events, and so on. The messages themselves should go beyond health tips and persuade and motivate with strategies that address consequences of inaction, the effect of their own obesity or unhealthy habits on children and other loved ones, the benefits of good health beyond merely being healthy. Other strategies should address people's sense of self-efficacy to do something about a personal weight or health problem, elicit teamwork or peer  pressure motivators, and other incentives beyond mere information to get people off  the couch.


Chip said...

This reminds me of Disney's recent announcement to monitor its advertisements concerning food during childhood programming. Apparently they'll only air adverts that promote a healthy lifestyle. Again, awareness, though awareness starting early.

Tim Penning, PhD said...

Good point Chip. I was thinking of that in the back of my head while writing the post. I would say the TIMING of the message is often strategic, and reaching people when young is strategic in the sense of forming good behaviors or starting positive habits vs trying to change bad ones later. Habits are hard to change, whether good or bad. I know people who can't give up donuts and ice cream, and others who can't give up oatmeal and yogurt and cringe at the thought of McDonalds :-)