There’s a very clear story in the public’s mind on childhood obesity; it’s about individuals, insufficient willpower and people making bad choices. The problem is this narrative is misleading. It overlooks the increasing evidence from behavioural science that how we consume food is often an unconscious response to cues in our environment. This is a year-long project using ‘cultural models’ research to explore the public’s deep held beliefs about childhood obesity, and then to design and test messages to get people thinking about the issue differently.
Distilling a clear and concise set of principles that summarise the expert perspective, drawing on our recent childhood obesity report.
Gathering data on the public’s thinking about childhood obesity - an additional set of 30-40 on-the-street interviews and focus groups on how people think about the issue.
August - September 2018
Developing a set of potential reframing strategies and hypotheses that respond to communications challenges that emerge from the first phase of research.
September - October 2018
Confirm results and provide video evidence of patterns of thinking.
October 2018 - Jan 2019
Web-based experimental surveys to test and evaluate the reframing strategies against others with a broader, demographically representative audience.
February - March 2019
Six sessions with groups in Lambeth and Southwark to evaluate which explanatory metaphors and other frame elements are: most easily understood and used by the public; have the best chance of seeping into the public discourse; and run the least chance of breaking down and morphing unproductively from their original form during transmission.
We have partnered with the FrameWorks Institute, who bring extensive expertise in rigorous approaches to developing and testing frames with members of the public.
We think this approach is particularly well suited to the issue of childhood obesity, where evidence-based solutions require an active citizen and consumer push, but where the existing common understanding of the problem hinders this type of activism.
FrameWorks will do this by first distilling the expert perspective on childhood obesity – resulting in a clear and concise set of principles that summarise the expert perspective on the issue.
The project will then focus on gathering data on the public’s thinking about child obesity through an additional set of on-the-street interviews and focus groups.
Once analysis has taken place and key messages are agreed, FrameWorks will support us and our partners to apply them through conducting training and leading presentations to brief and train staff and partners on the outcomes of the second phase of research. They will also synthesise the results and recommendations in a digestible, applied messaging brief and communications toolkit.
We have set up a steering group made up of 15 expert national organisations, who will inform and direct the project as it develops.
The evidence base around childhood obesity shows that unhealthy environments are a significant driver. They make it more difficult to eat well and move more, in particular in deprived areas. However, often when people talk about the issue, they focus on individual knowledge and willpower as the main reasons why people do or don’t eat well. They also speak about obesity as a large, significant issue for the UK, but not one that can be easily changed. Sometimes communications from expert groups can unintentionally reinforce these assumptions. We know that this makes it more difficult to direct energy towards the environmental drivers of childhood obesity, and so are working with FrameWorks to understand how we can begin to shift this narrative.
FrameWorks Institute are a US-based agency whose mission is to support non-profit communications capacity. They do this by using social science methods to understand how people frame complex issues and build effective messages based on this analysis. Their multi-disciplinary team is a mixture of anthropologists, psychologists, linguists, sociologists, and political scientists that draw on methods from across these disciplines. While they are US based, increasingly they have been working with large foundations and charities in the UK, including the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the Big Lottery Fund and the NSPCC.
The aim of this work is to develop messages that can be used to shift the public perception of childhood obesity from a problem that sits with the individual to an issue that needs sustained collective action. The messages and advice on how to use them, will be widely available to anyone working on, writing about or interested in childhood obesity.
The first phase of the project showed that peole talk about obesity broadly as an issue of education and willpower. The second phase is now underway and we expect to be able to share insights from September 2019.
Through reframing how we all talk about childhood obesity, we want to create a public good that supports the impact of our work and maximises the impact of others working to tackle the same issue by targeting misperceptions.