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Graphic childhood obesity ads not getting intended attention

Posted Jan 03 2012 4:45pm
Some new ads targeting the issue of childhood obesity in the state of Georgia are getting a lot of attention, but not for the right reasons, says Josh Klapow , Ph.D., a UAB clinical psychologist and expert in health behavior modification.

"Many health experts are saying these ads shame families for making their kids obese and that they do not offer tools for change," Klapow says. "But we are already saturated with communications about what we should be doing. Having shocking ads that are novel do exactly what they are intended to do and that's bringing attention to the problem."

Klapow says he thought he would agree with others who are against the ads. But when he looked at them through a population health management point of view, he saw them differently.

"What I see in these ads is an opportunity to follow up on them by encouraging participation in the positive health initiatives that are offered, whether it is the efforts of Michelle Obama or of the American Heart Association , or other organizations," Klapow says.

The Georgia childhood obesity campaign cites a survey of parents that found that 50 percent did not know childhood obesity was a problem and that 75 percent of parents with obese children did not realize their children were overweight.

Klapow says its part denial, and part not knowing any different.

"Some of these parents most likely have struggles of their own that have bled over to their children. Getting through to them is necessary, but won't solve the problem. They need to know how to restructure the lives of their family, and it's not all about motivation."

After getting parents' attention, Klapow says making specific and reachable goals is a good starting point, but they need to arrange their environment for success. This means not buying junk food to keep in the house, making family exercise a priority, packing healthy lunches, etc. Recruiting support helps -- for example someone in your extended family, a doctor or teachers at school. Also, monitoring progress and rewarding success in healthy ways.

"These basics are often the missing pieces of the puzzle. They can see the ads, they can feel bad about their situation, and they can even want to help, but we're asking them to change their lives and the lives of their kids forever and for the better. Without the right behavior change skills, simply getting through to them with ads will not lead them to success."
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