unhealthy eating Part 3: the campaign idea

fat but exercising

(foreword note) Ok. This has been a long time coming. My fault. I hadn’t mastered the link placement in post thing. Hang in there and maybe go back and peruse 1 &2 and 4 is actually now on its way.

Assuming you have read Parts 1 & 2 of this diatribe you are tagging along to see where I take the “unhealthy eating is an addiction” thought.

Suffice it to say it is counterproductive to continue pouring money and effort into attempts to make everyone slim, especially when this results in side effects that are disastrous for mental and physical health (widespread body dissatisfaction and poor self-image, eating disorders, appearance based prejudice, discrimination, stigmatization). We’ve had advice, admonition, instruction, rebuke, counsel and guidance through food columns, health columns, TV programs, government initiatives, and local campaigns. There have been guidelines, targets, programs and agendas, plans of action and series of measures.

None have worked.

Yet, as I read USAToday and other publications it seems we are doomed to experience more government anti-obesity campaigns and policies that have little effect on our collective health (or weight) but will make them feel good they are “doing something to solve the problem”.

The demand for weight loss fueled by the notion that everyone has a moral obligation to achieve a slim body will continue to eat up more and more of individuals’ budgets and energy (only to fail again and again in their efforts and simply go back to existing behavior).

This is what awaits us (or worse), if we don’t change direction and stop trying to follow the ‘one objective’ (be slim) method.
Look. We are going to have to do something different because it’s not as if we hadn’t heard it all before. For the last 20 years we’ve been lectured, browbeaten, chided and scolded over weight issues.

And let me be clear. We may have the programs available to help resolve the issue but the majority of these programs marketing campaigns (and intent) are appealing to people’s vanity and avoiding a key emotional trigger to inspire ongoing behavior (because vanity isn’t it).

In fact these programs go after the “be slim” concept which is wrong, wrong, wrong.

But I have an idea.

I believe the most recent UK anti-obesity campaign comes close.


By close … I mean they wrap a story around what I would consider the idea that would get adults to really really care.

Almost hidden in the middle of the execution they show and say (basically) that obesity, or being overweight, kills. By the way, the reason they can say that (truthfully) is that there are numbers showing the current generation of kids are believed to be destined to live a shorter lifespan than prior generations (the first downward trend in a long time).

So. The campaign is leveraging an adult’s worst nightmare – they outlive their child.

But they soften the blow in a nice story.

And I would not. How? Well … to ‘unsoften the blow’ we should look to anti-smoking initiatives and attack this problem exactly like they did.

Now. Let’s be careful with this thought.  A bunch of people are gonna start talking about the existing anti smoking programs and “how smoke affects other people” and “not scaring people to motivate them to act.” All those things are correct, and smart, but not what needs to be done now.

We need to go back to learnings from initial anti-smoking campaigns. We need to scare the bejesus out of people so they sit up and take notice.

This is “black lung” type of messaging time.

This is time to tie Unhealthy Eating with dire consequences.

I was recently at an agency where we developed a pro bono “Obesity Kills” campaign. Awesome idea. Well articulated. Made people gasp when we presented it. Half the room loved it. The entire room was scared of it. That made us feel like we had hit the nail on the head.

No one had the cahones to use it. (That didn’t make us feel as good.)


Similar to the UK campaign I would use the fact that Unhealthy Eating can affect the lifespan of children. I would highlight the fact Unhealthy Eating is an addiction.

I do believe a campaign can highlight the effects of an unhealthy eating addiction in children to change adult behavior (and therefore create a circular behavior effect – “I need to change my child’s eating behavior so they won’t die so I need to change my behavior as an example for them – and ultimately I will be healthier also).” It may sound indirect but adults do amazing things to protect kids.

Look. We hear a lot about “childhood obesity campaigns.” That’s stupid. A marketing campaign directed to children won’t address the issue. We can try and make sure the right things are available to them. But kids aren’t stupid. What kid doesn’t look to their mother and father or favorite aunt or uncle as an example of behavior? So. This behavior shift isn’t really about kids. Kids are kids. We can tell them about unhealthy eating until we are blue in the face. As soon as on their own they will grab the snickers bar over the apple. (cause that is pretty much what adults do).

truthwinsoutlogo-711573So. In the end I believe we need to change adult behavior (and ultimately that will change children’s behavior).

Unhealthy Eating is an addiction that Kills.

The role of this umbrella campaign is to get people stimulated to do something. Get in a “quit program.”

Once in program we should be encouraging a practical systematic approach to healthy eating (that was in Part 2).

To me we should be driving people into an HAES system so “kicking the addiction” isn’t about getting slimmer it is about achievable ways to optimize health for each individual regardless of size or shape. Once again, HAES emphasizes the benefits of sound nutrition, active living and body confidence as ends in themselves, not as a route to weight management.

Bottom line. Weight control is NOT about being fat or obese or skinny or any body image word you want to write here. It is about being healthy or unhealthy in the body you have.  Bodies come in all shapes and sizes. Let them come in all shapes and sizes. Let’s address how we treat those bodies. Unhealthy eating is an addiction. Treat is as such.

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Written by Bruce