Yes. Health education campaigns can change behaviours
Health education campaigns can fall short for several reasons. Some just fail to get attention or interest among the public. Some succeed in making people think, but it gets stuck as a concept and people don't act on it.
Many back-fire - irritating or alienating the public. Worse of all, some back-fire by 'normalising' a bad habit such as binge-drinking. "You tell me everyone is doing it, they can't all be stupid.. .?"
So how to get beyond this?
Effective health campaigns need to tune into behavioural science which, of late, has included nudge marketing methods. They should also embrace Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs to tap into intrinsic motives - our fundamental needs and desires.
Campaigns that seek to change habits also just need to get practical and be positive. The two Ps as I call them. First be practical - what's stopping the newly-educated individual adopting the new behaviour? Does it need to be more memorable or easy? People are busy, stressed, and mentally overloaded, particularly those with little disposable income and time. So build reminders and 'point of delivery' nudges in.
Second, be positive. Most, patronising, scare-mongering campaigns back-fire. Brits are cynical, quick to self-exempt ourselves from scary images of smokers' lungs or simply turn the page.
Jamie Oliver and I did some work together years ago when he was dubbed "The Naked Chef", on his first ever campaign for basic cooking skills to improve the nation's diets. His television and cook-book messages have been powerful in re-skilling a nation more used to ping-cuisine.
But even he faced a public backlash when his school-dinners campaign attacked the turkey twizzler / burger n chips fodder doled out daily to our kids. Aggrieved mothers were seen sneaking fast-food treats through school-railings. The tabloids loved this do-gooder news-fodder and gave the Mums counter-campaign front page treatment.
Our old work with LloydsPharmacy to push the 1million with undiagnosed type 2 diabetes into pharmacy for a diagnosis revealed the extend of the education challenge. There is constant media coverage on the link between obesity and this condition, yet still many people ignore the risks and fail to get the simple quick test to know if they are ok or need to tackle their diet and exercise.
It has to be the fear of facing what is a disease, or a form of self-exemption. "That won't happen to me", they say. The person at risk "forgets" or is "too busy" for the pin-prick test in their lunch-hour. Or they just rail at the nanny-state, saying "it's all over-blown".
Inspired by our recent weight-loss campaign work, what if you could inspire a more positive mindset in the public and be both practical and positive on weight loss and T2D?
Research studies show thousands of people on a leading weight plan have dropped a lot of weight. Studies offer evidence that T2D can be reversed leaving people healthy. So what if we all stopped thinking of this condition as a one-directional disease and focused on how to reverse it and get all of the other benefits of weight-loss?
Thinking back Maslow theory, weight loss regimes like this surely hit all of the stages of intrinsic need.
The patient in need of a heather, slimmer body, offers the promise of security.
The person on the Plan gets the very personal support of their consultant, thus social inclusion. The effective weight loss user, who may also reverse their risk of getting diabetes, can win status among fellow slimmers, particularly with the attention it attracts. These are all key stages of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, and are doubly potent because this type of Plan is both practical and positive.
We have had real success placing real stories of real people who those burger-sneaking Mums would now relate to. Yes, dieting is hard, and these people are the first to say so. But what they also say, on radio stations and to hard-bitten health writers on the tabloids, is that they found a simple way to recapture healthier eating habits and it works, and they say this from the heart.
This campaign has shown: keep the messages simple, show people practical and positive steps they can take, and give them real stories of real people who have shown how intrinsically motivating it can be to adopt new habits. No stick at all - just lots and lots of carrots.