Hold the Whip! Childhood Obesity and Public Relations

According to several resources and examples brought forward by the Food Research and Action Center, it’s estimated that in recent years, about one-third of children and adolescents are overweight or obese.

Let me repeat that:

About one-third of children and adolescents are overweight or obese.

What does overweight or obese mean exactly? To be considered overweight, your BMI (or Body Mass Index) must be in the 85th percentile and to be considered obese, your BMI must be in the 95th percentile or above. According to some, BMI is subject to interpretation by height, but I still believe higher BMI percentages render the same results in issues of obesity. I’ve witnessed a few situations where I believe something productive could have been done to counteract the issue and felt guilty myself.

When I worked at Starbucks, I remember a mother coming in a few times asking to get a grande (16 oz) frappuccino in a venti (20 oz) cup so her child could have extra whip cream, not to mention extra caramel in the drink and drizzled in chocolate and caramel sauce on top. Had she ordered this for herself, it wouldn’t have bothered me as much, but now this eight or nine-year-old was slurping on 16 oz of an exceedingly heavy drink for any person and about 6 oz of whipped cream (the dome lid allows for extra room).

Over the course of my employment there, I began memorizing nutritional content and random facts about products because the questions were always asked and I was curious myself. One of these being that the standard portion of whipped cream on a frappuccino adds 100 calories. Frappuccinos themselves are pretty notorious for a high calorie count (although there are skinnier options now). Starbucks has done a good job of creating healthier options for their drinks, although it is up to the guest to make that decision. I was lucky enough to have a high metabolism growing up and parents that promoted healthy eating, even against all my efforts to move the broccoli around on my plate to make it look like it had been eaten, but I realized that not everyone was so lucky.

Part of my job description as a Barista  was to make our guests feel like they were at a ‘home away from home’. I loved my job (and still love Starbucks) and I tried my best to ensure that I could do everything possible to fulfill that responsibility. In moments like the one mentioned above, I knew it wasn’t my responsibility to say anything to the parent, yet felt guilty for passing the drink along to the child beside her, who couldn’t have been more than eight or nine years old.

An issue relevant to public relations
When I realized the PRSSA 2012 Bateman Competition was centered around Childhood Obesity, my first thought was, “Now that’s something with a lot of purpose!” At least 18 Chapters received an Honorable Mention or higher for their entries and I realized how prevalent the cause was. (This year’s Bateman Competition is centered around youth bullying; another extremely important issue today.)

So why do I bring this up? I witnessed someone close to me have difficulty as a child because they struggled with childhood obesity and I believe this is not only a significant and relevant issue today, but a fairly sensitive one. To create a successful public relations campaign that takes all of these into account is truly an inspiration to me as I aspire to make significant progress in the industry when I enter the field.

Furthermore, and my inspiration for this blog post, was to commend the PRSA 2012 Silver Anvil Award of Excellence Winner for Crisis Management in the Non-profit sector. Jackson Spalding and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta teamed up to create the Strong4Life campaign, changing the focus from stopping childhood obesity to educating parents and pediatricians on the issue.

Here’s a brief summary of my analysis:

The Strong4Life campaign was comprehensive and focused on making simple ideas have a significant impact. By focusing on a cause and emphasizing education about the issue, the campaign empowered everyone to become an advocate. One of the smartest parts of this campaign was the anticipation of negative attention. Some of the tactics may have been developed along the way when the backlash became more prominent, but responding quickly and making rules for the types of posts for some of their social media content allowed the Strong4Life team to really take back the conversation and make sure constructive engagement followed.

I think this campaign was well researched and thoroughly prepared for – not only does it include community relations, media relations and several other case study topics, but tackles a crisis on top of these and executes all of them well. The extensive research and planning conducted by the Strong4Life team set the campaign up for success. Becoming an expert and empowering community experts in the issue allowed changes in the campaign to be implemented without disrupting the initial objective. I don’t believe the campaign would have benefited from any changes because everything was done out of logical and creative thinking that came from knowing and researching the audiences well. Overall, the campaign was a huge success for all parties involved.

I’m curious as to everyone’s thoughts on this issue: Does the problem start with the parent? Does it end with the child? Does this issue fall into corporate social responsibility or even public social responsibility? Should we take it upon ourselves to create more of a call-to-action to not just offer a few healthy items in restaurants, but to reevaluate portions of unhealthy foods?

To read my full analysis or learn more about the campaign, click here.

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