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Sending The Right Message To Tackle Obesity

23 March 2006

Sending The Right Message To Tackle Obesity

Social marketing campaigns aimed at fighting the problem of childhood obesity are missing the point and need to be much better targeted to get results, says a researcher from The University of Auckland Business School.

Marketing Department assistant lecturer Ekant Veer says his study is a world first. Rather than follow the pattern of traditional obesity research which has focused on the causes of the condition, its health effects and the strategies used to lose weight, he explored what motivates different groups of people to lose weight.

"Many social marketing campaigns have had poor results. Although adverts may have been well created, they may have been aimed at the wrong groups. For example, a motivational advert may have been used when the group would have responded better to an educational one.

"This study is very heartening. It shows if we tailor the message correctly, we can encourage individuals to lose weight regardless of which group they belong to. The right kind of advertising can have a significant influence on the intentions of an obese or overweight adolescent to lose weight."

The study involved 320 high school students in Mangere, South Auckland, ranging from Year 9 to Year 12, and investigated which types of advertising messages made children want to lose weight.

Mr Veer says that his research identified four distinct groups of students.

"Firstly we have those who are 'Unaware and Don't Care'," he says. "This group know that they are not their ideal size, but don't think about weight loss enough. However, subconsciously they want to lose weight.

"Then there are the 'Blissfully Unaware' who don't think about their size and, when prompted, say they are happy with the way they look. This group subconsciously doesn't want to lose weight.

"Our third group is students who are 'Ready to Go'. They don't like their current size and are consciously looking to lose weight.

"Finally we have the 'Beautifully Big' who love the size they are and consciously do not want to lose weight."

During the study, advertising messages were also split - into two categories.

"Educational adverts focus on building awareness and communicating facts," says Mr Veer. "Adverts in the second category are motivational; these are the ones that are encouraging and inspiring. Both types of adverts have been used in past campaigns, but the effectiveness of using one or the other is not well understood.

"The key finding of the study was the identification of the way the groups responded to the different messages.

"Students in the 'Blissfully Unaware' group were 30 percent more likely to lose weight when they were shown both types of advertisements rather than just an educational one. 'Beautifully Big' students were 15 percent more likely to respond to the educational advert than the motivational one.

"The differences weren't so marked for the 'Unaware and Don't Care' students who showed a slight preference for the motivational advertisements.

"As expected, the students in the 'Ready to Go' category were 22 percent more likely to lose weight than the other groups, and had no preference for either type of advertisement. This is probably because they had already made the conscious decision to lose weight and advertising was unlikely to increase their desire. Most important for this group is that they have access to feasible and effective weight loss programmes."


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