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To fight obesity, look at anti-smoking marketing PDF Print E-mail
Barlow's Beat
Friday, 28 September 2012 09:57

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When I was in first grade in Paragould, Arkansas, I had a half-dozen friends in my neighborhood.  We played baseball and football in my grandmother’s large front yard.

Like most such childhood bands, there was one kid we called Fatty.  He wasn’t fat by today’s standards, but he was heavier than we were but only because the rest of us were so skinny.  He grew up to be a healthy young man.

I think of Fatty when I see children of that age who are overweight at the mall, school concerts or movies.  These children are fat and, sadly, some already are obese.  My heart goes out to them because I know the hurtful teasing, ostracism, and bullying that awaits them.

More and more of our children and adults are gaining weight and much more.  With obesity comes more illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and now, shortened life expectancy.

A recent report in the New York Times found that for the first time, the life spans for white women, notably poor white women, have dropped four years, from 78 to 74.  For poor white men, life expectancy is about 68 years.  We’re going backwards.  In North Carolina, the overall life expectancy is 78 years; 75.5 for men, 80.5 for women in 2010.

The state’s health records show that 63.7 percent of us are overweight or obese.  North Carolina’s children are ranked fifth in the 16.9 percent of obese American children.

Given our political divide, many people believe it’s up to individuals to live healthier lives.  That hasn’t worked so well judging by the results.

Others believes government has a role if not a duty to get involved.  New York City, for example, is trying to regulate the size of sugar-loaded soft drinks.  Schools are taking a more active course on school lunches and PE, Physical Education.

My own observations convince me that the most successful approach to changing behaviors is social marketing or advertising.  It is not a quick cure, but it works.  Such marketing has been very successful in getting people to stop or not start smoking.  The rate of teen pregnancy has been declining for years, in part because of poorly funded but effective social marketing.

Children are especially attentive to such advertising.  Along with selling them trendy shoes and breath fresheners, why not sell them healthy diets and physical activity?  Make it uncool to eat and drink fatty foods and sugary drinks.

Such a campaign will cost money, but it will be cheaper for the country in the long run and will not require the heavy hand of mandates.

Did I say it works?

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