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Spur Mom into Action to See Improvement on Children’s Health Issues

Preventing Childhood Obesity

We've written previously about the role many women play as "family CMO." But how can that influence be harnessed in the fight against the childhood obesity epidemic? How can healthcare providers motivate mothers to help their children live active, healthy lifestyles? Are there ways that providers can achieve better return on engagement for their efforts to check the increase in the childhood obesity rate?

Let's first take a look at the overall problem. Then, we'll focus in on key findings that can help you shape your healthcare organization's strategy.

About 1 in 3 children in America are overweight.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the percentage of American children ages 6 to 11 years who were clinically obese —defined as having excess body fat for their given height — more than doubled in the past 30-odd years, from 7 percent in 1980 to almost 18 percent in 2012.

At the same time, the number of clinically obese adolescents quadrupled in America, from 5 percent to 21 percent. And, despite high-level attention, there has been remarkably little improvement, as illustrated by these heat maps of disease incidence from 2003 – 2013.

Why the concern?

Aside from the obvious health and quality of life implications, one word stands out: cost.

Childhood obesity is linked to the early development of a variety of life-threatening, expensive-to-manage, chronic conditions—diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer. Moreover, it is linked with conditions, like osteoporosis and sleep apnea, that simultaneously reduce quality of life and make it more difficult to increase exercise. To simplify: once a child becomes obese, he or she is more likely to stay that way through adulthood.

The prospect of paying to manage a chronic condition like type II diabetes from an obesity-induced early onset at age 30 or 40, versus an onset after 60, is clearly undesirable — for private health insurance providers and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services alike.

What can moms do to prevent their children from becoming overweight?

Much. Several known factors have contributed to the rise in childhood obesity rates:

  • Declining physical activity rates among US children
  • The marketing of nutrition-poor foods (like sugary breakfast cereals and snacks) to children
  • A general increase in portion sizes for prepared foods and in restaurants
  • An increased rate of sugary beverage consumption (including sodas, Gatorade and high-fructose corn syrup-laden juice cocktails)
  • And a decline in access to affordable, healthy foods (particularly in economically-challenged "food deserts")

Mothers have a crucial role to play in incentivizing (or even commanding) children to put down their video game controllers or tablet devices and go play outside for at least 60 minutes a day. Women are often the ones who organize family activities, so getting them to consider planning healthy recreations like hikes, family bike rides, or canoe trips is a critical need. And mothers still function as the primary grocery shoppers and meal preparers in many families, so they must be educated on (and afforded the means to obtain) healthy food.

The healthcare industry must do more than raise awareness.

No mother wants her child to be unhealthy. But many mothers don't know how to begin changing their family's health habits, and many more aren't motivated to do so. Healthcare marketers and providers can harness the power of psychographics to help women affect real changes in their children's diets and physical activity levels. Psychographic segmentation can target patients and caregivers with the messaging that appeals to their motivations and lifestyles.

Not every word or tactic you use is going to have the intended effect over a diverse population. A 2015 study published in Academic Pediatrics illustrated this fact, when it found that common, effective terminology used to impress upon English-speaking mothers the problem of their child's obesity was less effective, or downright offensive, to Latino mothers.

The study found that the preferred term among English-speaking populations, "overweight," when translated to Spanish became offensive to many mothers. Instead of motivating them to take action to reduce their child's obesity, they were more likely to feel put off and not to take any action. However, the term "too much weight for his/her health," was found to be both motivating and non-offensive to the majority of Latino mothers, making it more effective language to use.

Healthcare providers that want to see better return on engagement for their childhood obesity outreach programs would do well to learn what factors and words motivate mothers — their best allies in the fight — across a variety of cultural, socioeconomic and demographic strata. And using those findings, they should carefully shape their mom-centered messaging.

Psychographic Segmentation and its Practical Application in Patient Engagement and Behavior Change


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