One obstacle to activism is the human tendency to become fed up. A cause can raise awareness, then reach a point of diminishing returns and even develop an emotional backlash. People get compassion fatigue. More than five years ago, Neville Rigby wrote for The Guardian:
We have obesity awareness with almost daily headlines, and continual debate, while the government’s Change4Life initiative is being promoted widely to the point where we need to take care to avoid message fatigue.
That was the situation in the United Kingdom on the occasion of the first European Obesity Day, and 15 (mostly Eastern European) countries had signed up for active participation. Like many other nations, the UK strives to limit health care costs, ideally without reduction in the level or quality of services, which is rarely possible.
In the European Union, the opinion that it would be good to exercise more control over junk food marketing was prevalent. At the World Health Assembly, the selling of sugar-sweetened drinks was also a major point of concern. Rigby quoted a couple of officials who talked about focusing on prevention rather than cure, and the importance of curbing obesity because of all the miserable and expensive diseases that come along with it.
Message fatigue was also the concern of Dr. Lauren Smith, who four years later, for the National Institute for Children’s Health Quality, wrote of the struggle to hold the public’s interest in a long list of worrisome health issues:
Given the many priorities and important issues that are competing for our collective attention, it is easy to understand how policy makers and the public become numbed to the recurrent “calls to action”…All of these issues are incredibly important and for those families and communities who are touched by them, each leaves a lasting legacy of sorrow and lost potential.
Dr. Smith speaks of adjusting our language to make problems more understandable to people who don’t confront them every day. She believes that the first necessary step is to actually have faith that thoughtful and creative efforts can really make a difference. The Centers for Disease Control website offers a list of ways in which parents can prevent childhood obesity:
- Make sure children get adequate sleep
- Follow recommendations on daily screen time
- Take part in regular physical activity
- Eat the right amount of calories.
- Substitute higher-nutrient, lower-calorie foods for calorie-dense ingredients
- Serve children fruit and vegetables at meals and as snacks.
- Ensure access to water as a no-calorie alternative to sugar-sweetened beverages.
- Help children get the recommended amount of physical activity each day
All of this brings on another kind of fatigue. Parents can really get tired of the constant, everyday struggle to enforce some kind of sane food policies in the home. But just to keep us on our toes, GoHealthInsurance.com reminds us of the grim realities:
More than 23 million children ages 2 to 19 in the United States are obese or overweight. That’s equal to a third of the country’s children who are at greater risk for Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease, not to mention added stress and anxiety from social pressure as they grow up.
Your responses and feedback are welcome!
Source: “Obesity awareness is not the problem,” TheGuardian.com, 05/22/10
Source: “Overcoming the Epidemic of Compassion Fatigue,” Nichq.org, 06/05/14
Source: “September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month,” CDC.gov, undated
Source: “3 Health Tips to Practice During National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month,”
Image by Martin Abegglen