On The Offense Against Obesity

Obesity has been a problem in the U.S. for some time, and is now becoming a worldwide health concern. Recently, as more nations face a rising incidence of obesity in their populations, actions are being implemented globally to address the upward trend.

Leading the offensive in New York City is Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is calling for a ban on sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces in food-service enterprises. He cites the following statistics in support of his proposal: roughly 30 percent of New Yorkers consume more than one sweetened drink a day and over 50 percent are obese or overweight. The ban would be extensive, since it would include any sweetened beverage sold in a myriad of venues such as fast food chains, restaurants, delis, sports stadiums, street carts, and movie theaters.

While it might seem aggressive to ban the sale of large sugary beverages, that is nothing compared to what is happening in the United Arab Emirates. Unable to change behavior with healthy eating guidelines alone, the Ministry of Health has recently proposed new legislation that will make it a federal offense to serve kids junk food. Not only will food companies be scrutinized across all seven Emirates in both private and public schools, so will parents who are sending food from their own home. "Tiffin boxes brought from home will be monitored so that parents also follow the guidelines and pack healthy lunches," said Dr. Mariam Matroushi, the Director of Health Legislation.



Back in the U.S., The Walt Disney Company with First Lady Michelle Obama announced two landmark initiatives. The first is that all food and beverages sold in Disney’s theme parks and resorts will be in line with federal nutrition guidelines by 2015; the second is that food and drinks that are not in line with nutrition standards will not be advertised on any of their networks or platforms. The significance of this action cannot be overstated, as Disney is the world’s largest entertainment company. Obama had this to add: "With this new initiative, Disney is doing what no major media company has ever done before in the U.S. -- and what I hope every company will do going forward."

To be sure, food companies and restaurants have made an effort to offer healthier options for some time, but the continued upward trends in obesity are resulting in these stronger actions. Businesses would be well served to innovate and change before they are forced to do so. Food marketers should continue the path toward healthier options -- from what is put into foods to the serving size and how it is marketed.

As an example, consider Jenny Craig taking its weight loss program to France. To succeed in this market, the company is smartly customizing its program to meet the needs of the French consumer, including communal dining, light activity, and fewer eating occasions. The difference in consumer mindset is most evident in the marketing messages. In the U.S., the focus is on motivation and building self-esteem, "Feel Like New. Feel Like You." In France, the message is much more functional -- Mariah Carey says, "I did the Jenny Craig solution. It works! Why not you?"

For food marketers, the lesson here from both Jenny Craig and the changing landscape -- especially with weight management and obesity -- is that while product innovation is important, the right marketing communication will also be critical for success. Such messages can range from functional to emotional, depending on what will be most motivating to the target consumer. For example, brands might speak to smaller, more meaningful portion sizes to encourage moderation, clear communication that products meet nutrition guidelines to help consumers make smarter choices, or more emotional messages to encourage behavior change and success. Either way, marketers will need to combine healthier product solutions with the right motivating message.




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