National Obesity Week and the importance of public health campaigns

This week (12 - 18 January) is National Obesity Awareness Week.

With one in four adults obese and some experts predicting that half the population could be obese by 2050, it is an issue that needs to be confronted sooner rather than later. It not only has a human cost, but it is a growing problem for an increasingly pressurised NHS, which must respond to more than 12,000 obesity-related hospital appointments a year.

As health practitioners and communications teams know, it is one thing understanding that obesity is a significant social problem and it is another thing encouraging people to make choices that will benefit themselves and society in the long run. The problem is compounded when we live in a society in which junk food is everywhere, unhealthy food is generally cheaper than healthy food and sedentary lifestyles are the norm.

But public health campaigns can make a positive difference. Freshwater worked with Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Primary Care Trust on ‘Delivering a Healthy Future’, a campaign that encouraged the public to make healthier choices. NHS Cornwall recognised that obesity wasn’t just a personal problem for obese individuals, it was also costing the PCT over £150m a year. We worked with the Trust to develop a social marketing strategy that directly engaged with local people by asking them to put forward their ideas on how to make Cornwall healthier. The interactive campaign involved public “Question Time”-style events and also parliamentary select committee-style hearings.

The initial social marketing campaign led to the “Healthy Schools Programme”, an initiative designed to help children understand the benefits of eating healthily. It also led to an initiative in which trainers provided personalised support to people who needed assistance losing weight. We are proud to say that the campaign won an award at the NHS Health and Social Care Awards and was selected as a case study for effective social marketing by PR Week.

From cooking healthier foods to doing more exercise, National Obesity Week seeks to encourage people to adopt healthy resolutions – whether it’s eating healthy food or doing more exercise – and then sharing their resolutions on social media. Like our ‘Delivering a Healthy Future’ campaign in Cornwall, it is about people making their own choices. Effective communications strategies have their part to play in helping people live long and healthy lives.