This blog was co-authored by Maria James and Carrie Dooher.
Chronic diseases, often referred to as “lifestyle” diseases, including heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, and arthritis – are among the most common, costly, and preventable of all health problems in the U.S. and also the leading causes of death and disability. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), four modifiable health risk behaviors—lack of physical activity, poor nutrition, tobacco use, and excessive alcohol consumption—are responsible for much of the illness, suffering, and early death related to chronic diseases. Specifically with regards to obesity, just last week the CDC released a new report published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine warning that 42 percent of the U.S. population will be obese by 2030 – while that may seem to be some time in the future, that’s actually just 18 years away.
But this is not just an issue that afflicts the U.S.; it is a global epidemic estimated to kill 36 million people a year and is so important and acute that in 2011 for only the second time in its history, the United Nations (UN) addressed the prevention of non-communicable diseases, or NCDs, at their General Assembly meeting to set a new international agenda on the prevention of NCDs. The first and only other time that the UN General Assembly met on a health issue was to discuss the world epidemic of AIDS. World leaders joined Health and Development Ministers in the consensus adoption of a wide-ranging Political Declaration on the prevention and control of NCDs; this Declaration’s implementation will be evaluated in 2014. And progress is already beginning to be benchmarked against it – on May 16, the World Health Organization released new data highlighting increases in hypertension and diabetes incidence around the world in anticipation of the World Health Assembly, to be held in Geneva from 21 to 26 May 2012, which will consider progress made from last Septembers meetings. In addition, the World Health Assembly will continue discussions about developing a global monitoring framework and a set of voluntary targets for prevention and control of these diseases.
While there are many disciplines considering solutions to NCDs, one that should not be ignored is social marketing. As an effective health promotion strategy, social marketing can be, and has been, used to motivate people to use health information and change behavior in ways that promote and maintain good health. And a critical step in creating positive behavior change to impact health is simple, science-based, behavior-focused communication messages on nutrition and health.
On May 1st, the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation announced the publication of the proceedings from its 2011 Global Diet and Physical Activity Communications Summit: “Insights to Motivate Healthful, Active Lifestyles,” in the May 2012 issue of the peer-reviewed journal Nutrition Reviews, stressing again the need for health communicators to be part of the solution in addressing NCDs. As U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Regina M. Benjamin stated in the keynote address at IFIC Foundation’s Global Summit in September 2011, there is an essential need for communicators of global health to provide clear, simple information based on the latest science, to stress prevention and to employ a comprehensive, holistic approach to combating non-communicable diseases or NCDs.
Along with the release of the Nutrition Reviews article, last week the IFIC Foundation also released a helpful one-page fact sheet entitled, “Communication Strategies to Help Reduce the Prevalence of Non-communicable Diseases.” The fact sheet combines the key findings from the Summit into 10 helpful tips for communicating health messages with consumers.
The top five tips include:
1. Use easy to understand messages.
2. Set realistic goals.
3. Connect with children early in life on how they can succeed.
4. Focus on “how to do it” instead of “what to do.”
5. A key message should be “do something.”
When the UN measures progress in 2014, what are your thoughts on how far we will have come?