What motivates you to exercise or eat healthy? Are you the kind of person who needs a drill sergeant barking orders and insults to motivate you to move? Does encouragement and reassurance motivate you to say no to that piece of chocolate cake? While everyone is admittedly different and has their own style when trying to lose weight, a recent study suggests that the real power lies in positive messaging.
An article reporting on a study published in the International Journal of Obesity stated that the most effective messages were those that suggested specific steps that would improve health, conveyed a sense of empowerment and left references to obesity unspoken. In fact, messages that tried to motivate using images of very obese individuals, and messaging suggesting overweight individuals will will become victims of self-inflicted disease, poor role models for their families and a drag on the economy were assessed as least effective.
These findings are understandable – who wants to be stigmatized negatively, especially because of their weight. Obese or overweight individuals already endure enough stigma and ridicule from society. To leverage that stigma and experience to try to motivate individuals doesn’t seem like it could be effective. Still, what surprised me about this study was that simple straight forward messages like ‘eat right’, ‘be active’, ‘be healthy’ seemed to be rated as most effective. While there is no doubt in my mind that people would respond more positively to positive messages than negative ones… I wonder which do a better job of capturing attention. The true impact of any campaign – will depend on whether anyone is listening. First you have to capture attention, then you need to communicate the compelling, impactful message. To that end I wonder if perhaps what hasn’t been figured out yet is how to capture attention in a compelling way, without stigmatizing. Who will come up with a way to make those wonderfully effective positive messages actually be provocative and attention getting? There in lies the key.