Remember my previous post on the obesity epidemic and WHO’s call for countries to regulate the fast food market? It is happening here in Canada. Of course not in reaction to WHO’s report, but it is still relevant as it is an attempt from the Canadian government to “make fast food less attractive” as I mentioned in my previous post.

A new legislation that  requires fast food chains to post calorie counts for each item on their menu boards was moved forward in Ontario end of February. Fore more details please read “Ontario law to force calorie count on fast-food menus“.

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A fear appeal is “threatening the audience with harmful outcomes from initiating or continuing an unhealthy practice” (Atkin, 2001, p.20). A lot of health communicators tend to use fear appeals to convince the public to adopt a certain behavior. “Fear appeals can be risky because there may be boomerang effects due to defensive responses by the audience members who attempt to control their fear rather than control the danger” (Atkin, 2001, p20).

This does not deny the fact that well-designed fear appeals are sometimes very effective in achieving desired goals. Scare tactics are efficient if the message provides an action plan of what needs to be done and how an individual can do it successfully (self-efficacy) or a good proof that the suggested behavior  will most likely reduce the occurrence of that danger (response efficacy).

In that sense, I want to share with you the below posted video on seat belt safety as a great example of using fear appeal. I watched it more than three years ago and still remember it quite well. Watch it and tell me what you think! Not only what you think about this specific video, but about the use of fear appeals in an attempt to change behavior versus a positive reinforcement approach. Enjoy!!

References

Atkin, Charles (2001). Impact of Public Service Advertising: Research Evidence and Effective Strategies. Retrieved 23 February 2014 from http://people.oregonstate.edu/~doverl/SMILE/WTW08/WTW08%20Supplemental%20Resources/Impact%20of%20Public%20Service%20Advertising_%20Research%20Evidence%20and%20Effective%20Strategies.pdf

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I always say that a surrounding enabling environment must be created to encourage sustained behavioral change. To achieve the desired behavior, four main elements need to be integrated to create an enabling environment that constitutes the right support structure. The four elements are:

 

  • Communication: Disseminate key concepts and messages
  • Access: Ensure availability of healthy products and sports facilities
  • Political Environment: Establish policy and guidelines
  • Motivation (Promotion): Present incentives for change

And it is finally happening! The World Health Organization (WHO) is urging governments to step in and regulate the fast food market. They justify this call for action by the findings of a study they made in 25 high-income countries between 1999 and 2008 comparing the number of fast food transactions with body mass index (BMI). “BMI is a number calculated from a person’s weight and height and provides a reliable indicator of body fatness for most people”. (CDC)

The study suggests that “while the average number of annual fast food transactions increased from 26.61 to 32.76 per person, average BMI increased from 25.8 to 26.4. The sharpest gains were in Canada, Australia, Ireland and New Zealand, while the lowest were in countries with more stringent market regulation – such as Italy, the Netherlands, Greece and Belgium”, as reported in the February WHO Bulletin.

“Unless governments take steps to regulate their economies, the invisible hand of the market will continue to promote obesity worldwide with disastrous consequences for future public health and economic productivity,” said Roberto De Vogli of the department of Public Health Sciences at the University of California, Davis, in the United States, who led the study. He also added that “the take-home message is that, although free-market policies are not to be demonized, it appears quite clear that in order to fight the obesity epidemic, a stronger role of government intervention is necessary”.

Obesity is a worldwide epidemic and is no longer an individual problem. Societies and governments suffer a concealed economic burden of obesity. These economic consequences affect employment, productivity, diminished opportunities, and have substantial and costly implications for health service capacities and social and economic infrastructure.

Prevention is the key strategy for reversing the current trend of obesity and involves improving eating habits and increasing physical exercise. There have been and there still are a lot of initiatives, programs, campaigns and not for profit organizations trying to fight obesity by promoting a healthy life style. But it seems it is not enough. The obesity epidemic is nevertheless on the rise.

Therefore, I’m very excited about WHO’s report and look forward to some political changes to “make fast food less attractive”.  Some people however disagree with this call for action and consider it a violation of any country’s right to a free economy. Where do you stand?

References

CDC (2013). Healthy Weight – it’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle!. Retrieved 17 February 2014 from CDC: http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/assessing/bmi/

FOX, MAGGIE (2014). Study Shows Exactly How Fast Food Packs on Pounds. Retrieved 11 February 2014 from NBC News: http://www.nbcnews.com/health/diet-fitness/study-shows-exactly-how-fast-food-packs-pounds-n20351

Fox News (2014). Lack of regulation of fast food fueling obesity epidemic, study says. Retrieved 11 February 2014 from Fox News: http://www.foxnews.com/health/2014/02/03/lack-of-regulation-of-fast-food-fueling-obesity-epidemic-study-says/

Vogli, Roberto De and Gimenoc, Anne Kouvonenb & David Gemeno(2014). The influence of market deregulation on fast food consumption and body mass index: a cross-national time series analysis. Retrieved 11 February 2014 from WHO: http://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/92/2/13-120287/en/index.html

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As I’m following Healthy Canadians, a Government of Canada Facebook page promoting healthy living to Canadians, I saw the above posted image  this morning.

As a health communication practitioner I had to look at it with a critical eye. I can’t say that this approach totally conveys the message to the intended target audience (parents); on the other hand, the image is bold and catchy. What do you think?

Now regarding the copy: does everyone know what STIs stands for? I’m sure a lot of people do, but a big proportion does not. Do you think they want to catch people’s attention by that? I sometimes use this method too and would love to know if it works or not!

Speak Out to End FGM

Feb 6 is the International Day of Zero Tolerance of Female Genital Mutilation.
Speak out! #endFGM

Last month, my daughter was suffering from a severe cough. I searched the internet for natural remedies, but they did not help her a lot. Finally, I took her to our family doctor who prescribed some medication. Based on what I have read on the internet, I started discussing with the doctor if this is the right medicine for my daughter’s condition. In simple words she looked at me saying: “Ask Dr. Google!”

I don’t think that it’s only me who gets health information from the internet. In January 2013, Pew published the results of a survey of more than 3,000 U.S. adults who used the internet to look for health information. “77% of online health seekers began at a search engine such as Google, Bing, or Yahoo. Another 13% began at a site that specializes in health information, like WebMD. Just 2% started their research at a more general site like Wikipedia and an additional 1% started at a social network site like Facebook”. (Fox, 2013, p. 8)

The dissemination of health and medical information over the internet for sure has its great advantages. Easy access to health information eventually leads to more knowledgeable patients who take informed health decisions. But what if this information is incorrect, outdated or misleading? In that case, using the internet as a source of health information would be harmful. In order not to compromise such an important communication tool, we just have to be very careful choosing a reliable source during our health information seeking process.

Several articles list some tips on how to evaluate health information on the internet. These can be summarized as follows:

  • The responsible person or entity for the web site as well as its content should always be identifiable.
  • Credentials of the author can help you judge if his or her education and experience qualify him or her to write such content.
  • Try to avoid commercial websites as their content could be biased in an attempt to sell their products or services. Look for educational or medical organizations and government agencies.
  • Trustworthy health information should be based on recent scientific studies. Therefore, check for references that back up the health information on any web site and for the date to ensure that it is up to date.
  • It always adds to the credibility of a publication if it has been peer-reviewed by a panel of experts.

I usually get reliable health information from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization, National Institutes of Health, federal government, nationally-recognized medical universities, Mayo clinic and WebMD.

Nevertheless, it is always safer to discuss your health issues with your health care provider especially when differences in opinion arise due to the lack of sufficient evidence.

Mayada Wahsh

References:
Canadian Public Health Association. Evaluating health information online. Retrieved 4 February 2014 from Canadian Public Health Association: http://www.cpha.ca/en/portals/h-l/web.aspx

Fox, Susannah and Duggan, Maeve (2013). Health Online 2013. Retrieved 4 February 2014 from Pew Internet: http://pewinternet.org/~/media//Files/Reports/PIP_HealthOnline.pdf

National Institutes of Health (2011). How To Evaluate Health Information on the Internet: Questions and Answers. Retrieved 4 February 2014 from National Institutes of Health: http://ods.od.nih.gov/Health_Information/How_To_Evaluate_Health_Information_on_the_Internet_Questions_and_Answers.aspx

UCSF Medical Center. Evaluating Health Information. Retrieved 4 February 2014 from UCSF Medical Center: http://www.ucsfhealth.org/education/evaluating_health_information/index.html