Some Obesity-related Health Messages Undercut Public Health Campaigns

September 26, 2012 — More than 78 million American adults are considered to have obesity, and public health organizations and other groups have launched campaigns to motivate people to lead healthier lifestyles and shed weight. A recent study in the International Journal of Obesity examined public perceptions of obesity-related public health media campaigns, especially in regard to the extent to which campaign messages are perceived to be motivating or stigmatizing. The study found that adults respond more favorably to messages that emphasize healthy behaviors over ones that focus on weight and demean obese people. 

For the journal study, researchers issued online surveys to 1,014 U.S. adults 18 and older in July 2011 to gauge reactions to messages from major obesity-prevention campaigns implemented in Australia, the United Kingdom and the U.S. Participants (37% had normal weight, 33.4% had excess weight, 26.5% had obesity  and 9% had less than normal weight) were asked to rate how positive or negative each message was by using adjectives provided by researchers.

Participants responded more approvingly to obesity-related health campaigns that emphasize specific health behaviors and personal empowerment for health compared with campaigns that imply personal blame and stigmatize the obese.

The most-stigmatizing message came from Australia: “Childhood obesity is child abuse.” The study found that 62.4% of participants considered the statement denigrating. The least-stigmatizing message was the First Lady’s campaign urging the nation’s youth to “Move every day!”  Read study

Click here to read the AMA’s American Medical News story on this study.