Social Media vs. the Obesity Epidemic, Part 8

Overweight Spiderman

Last time, Childhood Obesity News started to look at the ideas of innovative design consultant Chris Waugh, who told an interviewer that “design thinking” actually offers a new approach to reducing childhood obesity. One of Waugh’s principles, he told Diane Carman, is the importance of meeting people where they are, rather than wishing or pretending they are different.

Waugh proposes 10 steps, and we will look at those 10 steps in terms of two questions: Which of these steps can be realized by using social media? And if social media can actually do a bunch of good, which of these steps can social media utilize? In other words, if the 10 steps are valid, an awful lot of them ought to be amenable to implementation via social media. And conversely, those methods of communication ought to be able to make use of quite a few of the steps.

Step 1 is to set the stage with empathy, and find out where the child is coming from, metaphorically speaking. Can a website or an app do this? Yes.

Step 2 is, identify the barriers and find out what is standing between you and success. Here, a very specific example is given:

In working with chef Jamie Oliver of the Food Revolution, Waugh said they found many children couldn’t identify common vegetables because they’d never seen them before and most knew little about cooking because they rarely saw it in their homes.

A website or app, by taking a poll that asks about obstacles and barriers, can also do this. In another case, the barrier might be a mental attitude. For instance, most men would tend to shun cooking classes advertised as healthful. But, Waugh says, they participate willingly when the persuasion includes the suggestion that a man who cooks for a lady is more likely to be invited to stick around after dinner — maybe even until it’s time to cook breakfast.

Step 3 is, “Make the little things interesting,” which electronic devices are certainly capable of doing.

For Step 4, “Find and support the bright spots,” Carman reports this example of real-world social networking:

With a problem as complex and entrenched as obesity, [Waugh] said, it’s important to focus on innovative efforts. He cited a ‘walking school bus’ activity at one elementary school in which adults accompanied children who walked to school along the bus route with pupils joining them at each stop along the way.

Step 5 is to learn from analogous situations. An adult who is a good money manager, for instance, can be encouraged to find parallels between mature, sensible financial practices and mature, sensible eating habits. This example is not mentioned here, but it seems obvious that kids who are used to dealing with the various scoring systems in video games can adapt those skills to understanding the comparative values of various foods. Indeed, a great many interactive programs rely on already acquired gaming skills.

Step 6 is to start with a piece of the problem and focus on it, perfecting the knack of applying a solution, before branching out to spread the solution over other areas.

Step 7 is rather mysteriously called “Change the decision,” and this is the brief explanation:

If food labels identified servings by how many miles it would take to walk them off instead of by calorie counts, Waugh said it might change people’s minds about what they eat.

That one is easy! Even though food labels do not tip us off about how many walking miles are required to cancel out slice of cheesecake, a smartphone app can certainly handle the task.

Step 8 is, “Don’t lead with health.” In other words, find synonyms that bring to mind fun and frolic, rather then health, which people tend to find boring.

Step 9 is the all-important, “Meet people where they are.” In other words, if a purple walrus is the only creature to whom a toddler will listen, find or create a purple walrus to deliver the message. This is an area where online applications and computer games really shine.

Step 10 is concerned with finding the moments that matter. This is a particularly important one for parents, in the real-life social networking situation of communicating with children. Teachers have to deal with too many kids at a time, but a parent has a better chance of being alone with a child when a “teachable moment” presents itself. It’s also advantageous for electronic social media, which a young person can access when she or he is in the mood for self-betterment.

Carman sums it up like this:

For businesses, groups and individuals working to address the epidemic of childhood obesity, the biggest challenge is to make it fun. Or, at the very least, to avoid making it humiliating, frustrating, boring and punitive.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “‘Design thinking’ offers new approach to tackling childhood obesity,”, 12/14/12
Image by mikecogh (Michael Coghlan).

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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