Americans are fat. I said it. Fat. I know it, you know it,the world knows it. I know, it is a dirty word that people don’t like to talk about and as marketers we now use the term “health and wellness.” I suppose that is much easier to swallow. No pun intended. However, research supports this accusation. George Washington University researchers did a study on the overall cost of obesity that also added in things like employee sick days, lost productivity, even the need for extra gasoline — and found the annual cost of being obese is $4,879 for a woman and $2,646 for a man. Ouch! Another study done by John Cawley of Cornell University and Chad Meyerhoefer of Lehigh University released last week by the National Bureau of Economic Research, estimates that nearly 17 percent of U.S. medical costs can be blamed on obesity.
It’s not all doom and gloom. There are great healthy food choices to eat. I’m all for snacks. (And a little chocolate on the side.) Many of us remember walking or riding our bikes to school and playing outside until the sun went down. There is life beyond cable TV. People are starting to take notice and communities are fighting back. That is the beauty of grassroots movements and a tremendous opportunity for communication professionals working with these organizations as well as with businesses as they launch new products and services supporting the health and wellness cause. There are many stories to tell from revitalizing neighborhoods, eliminating “food deserts,” retraining lunch ladies, reviewing the built environment, and creating food policy councils, initiating small changes and lifestyle makeovers. But this goes beyond telling a good story and educating the public about smart choices. What’s our role in this as marketers?
As a communication professional, I can appreciate the value of good food marketing. Even my kids pick the carrots in a Dora the Explorer bag over the generic store brand. What I don’t like are the cereal boxes at kid eye-level with the Disney characters. In fact, I’d rather take my kids down the toy aisle than walk the cereal aisle. If you haven’t read Dr. Mark Hyman’s article in the Huffington Post, Obesity in America: Are Factory Farms, Big Pharma and Big Food to Blame?, I encourage you to do so. In the article two things grabbed my attention:
“Stop food advertising to children. Food marketing directed at children should be banned (through the FTC). This has been done in over 50 countries across the globe including Australia, the Netherlands, and Sweden. We should follow suit. The FDA should also restrict unproven health claims on labels.
End irresponsible relationships between medicine and industry. Public health organizations like the American Heart Association and the American Dietetic Association should avoid partnerships, endorsements, or financial ties with industry that compromises their independence and credibility. Coca-Cola sponsoring events at the American Dietetic Association, or the American Heart Association promoting chocolate sugary cereals as heart healthy because they have a few grains of whole wheat–is this credible?”
It’s hard to admit that our profession may have greatly impacted and added to the obesity epidemic. Dr. Hyman challenges us to be more creative and to develop an economy based on products and services that make people thin and healthy. We can support grassroot movements, back solid programming, promote healthy products and services and tell their stories.
I’ve had the good fortune to spend time with Dr. James Hill, professor of pediatrics and medicine, University of Colorado, and executive director, Anschutz Medical Campus Health and Wellness Center, and have become a fan of his small changes concept. Dr. Hill aims to inspire Americans to make small changes in how much they eat and how much they move to prevent weight gain. What a simple yet big concept that has millions of marketing applications.
We must be advocates for change within the marketing industry. The next time you hold a brainstorm for a client, think through the big and small ideas and trends and creative partnerships that truly align with not only your client’s business objectives but are innovative and are sustainable from a socially responsible perspective. We can help shape our future through our creative campaigns and advocacy efforts. Our overall health demands it.