The climbing obesity rates in Ireland over the past decade that have led to one in four obese children in 2013 have resulted in a local organization, Safehood, initiating a three-year campaign named “Let’s Take on Child Obesity, One Step at a Time” to tackle the pressing issue. The campaign launched in October 2013.
Safehood is an implementation body established under the British-Irish Agreement with the task of promoting “awareness and knowledge of food safety and nutrition issues.” The organizational structure is such that the chief executive oversees the four directorates including, marketing and communications, health and nutrition, and food science. He is supported by a scientific advisory committee and an advisory board. From their findings and discussions, he reports directly to the North South Ministerial Council (NSMC) of Ireland. Government affiliation allows Safehood to conduct high-quality research in microbiology, toxicology and food chemistry, along with collecting mass consumer data for analysis and interpretation. These build the foundations of their evidence-based campaign. Safehood boasts of placing “the consumer at the center of its marketing and communications” to form a two-way communication channel.
This campaign is one aimed at both behavioral change and raising awareness. The first objective was about communicating “practical solutions” that parents could implement into their everyday lives that would target the unhealthy day-to-day habits of children. The second objective was to maintain a level of awareness among the parents regarding quality of life and the effects of obesity. Why should parents care about their child’s weight? Well here are the reasons why. Thus, the latter objective was there to reinforce the importance of the former.
Safehood had explicitly spit their target audience into two groups. The primary audience are parents or guardians of children “aged between 2-12.” The secondary target audience are were generally grouped as “family, friends and key influencers.” However, from studying this campaign, it is clearer that key influencers refer to those who have direct contact with children – most noticeably were school teachers.Safehood focused on enforcing six core actions that were “small, but achievable.” These included: understanding portion sizes, allowing appropriate consumption of treat food, being more physically active, reducing screen time, replacing sugary drinks and encouraging more sleep. The organization’s governmental position allowed them to send their message across a wide range of public mediums, including television and radio ads, outdoor posters, as well as digital and printed booklets for parents, available at many health centers (GPs, surgery units, local libraries). They also encouraged consumer involvement in their social media (Facebook and twitter page).
Safehood began with carrying out extensive focus groups with parents to know what was missing in the community. This is how they found that most parents were already aware of obesity as an issue, but needed practical solutions (their main objective). From there, they partnered with over seven organizations including academic institutions such as Irish College of general practitioners and community volunteer organizations such as Bodywhys. This would allow them to create both informative content given by health professionals and more interactive material such as meal planners for parents.
The campaign proved to be a success in both message communication and behavioral change. Meal planning led to 6 in 10 parents successfully reducing portion size within a year. There was a 48% increase in parents setting a regular bedtime routine. 77% agreed that they had learnt at least one new piece of information which would change their attitude towards nutrition.