Child Obesity In The United Kingdom Health Essay

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Dramatic increase in childhood obesity is alarming regarding to UK health professionals. Future health complications of obese children include heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and high lipid levels (BBC 2009). These chronic diseases can lead to premature death and are extremely costly to treat for the NHS health care.. Several studies have demonstrated that obese children will become obese adults in the future.

This statement highlights that child obesity is a serious problem in the UK and any action has to be taken urgently in order to prevent tragic consequences in the future.

In the following study, we would like to propose a campaign targeting child obesity, a campaign that would effectively communicate to the public the dangers of the current situation and encourage it to modify their attitudes. Firstly, this paper focuses on the review of the issue known as 'child obesity'. Secondly, it will discuss two theories applied in the proposed campaign: cognitive dissonance and guilt appeal and how they have been used to accomplish campaign objectives. The last section will give recommendations to government supporting the campaign.

Obesity is the state of being seriously overweight - to a degree that affects your health (BBC 2009). It is a condition where weight gain has got to the point that it poses a serious threat to health (Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology 2005). It is measured in terms of a person's body mass index (bmi) which is determined both by weight and height (Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology 2005). BMI cut-off points have been agreed for obese and overweight adults, but for children the situation is more complex (Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology 2005). Because a child's BMI varies with age, different cut-off points have to be used to define overweight and obese children depending on age. (Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology 2005).

Trends in child obesity in the United Kingdom

According to Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (2005), the following trends have been discovered.

Obesity among children has increased overall between 1995 and 2007 while the prevalence of overweight has remained at similar levels. Overall, in 2007, around three in ten children were classed as either overweight or obese.

In 2007/08, around one in ten pupils in reception year were classified as obese (9.6%). This compares to around a fifth of pupils in Year 6 (18.3%).

Girls in the lowest income group were more likely to be obese compared to those in the highest income group. No clear relationships were found for boys.

2.3. Causes

Obesity occurs when an individual takes in more energy than they expend, although some people are genetically more susceptible than others (BBC 2009). The rise in obesity has been too rapid to be attributed to genetic factors, and must thus reflect changes in eating patterns and levels of physical activity (BBC 2009). Obesity is caused by two simple factors- an unhealthy diet, typically too rich in sugar and fats, and not doing enough exercise to burn off calories consumed (BBC 2009).

Dietary factors

Poor diet and nutrition are recognised as major contributory factor for overweight and obesity among children.

Research in 2004 found that as well as fruit and vegetables, less healthy options such as burgers, chips, cakes and muffins were regularly served in secondary schools across the country (NHS 2009).

These less healthy options were found to be the most popular choices among the pupils, with vegetables and salads, fruit and fruit juices the least popular (NHS 2009).

More than four in five children considered their diets to be either 'quite healthy' or 'very healthy'. The majority of children agreed with the statement 'Healthy foods are enjoyable' (NHS 2009).

Similar patterns were found among children from low income households to adults. Boys were more likely to consume foods such as burgers and kebabs and girls were more likely to consume foods such as rice, salads and fruit (NHS 2009).

Physical Activity

Changes in patterns of physical activity and the adoption of more sedentary lifestyles are also likely to be important factors behind obesity (Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology 2005).

A decline in the number of young people playing sport at school.

A fall in the proportion of children walking to school.

A decline in the proportion of children cycling to school.

A possible rise in sedentary pastimes such as watching TV, playing computer games or accessing internet.

2.4. Risk factors and consequences

Obesity is a risk factor for a range of chronic diseases (Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology 2005).

Diabetes: An obese woman is almost 13 times more likely to develop diabetes, than a woman who is not obese (NHS 2009).

Heart disease


Osteoarthritis and back pain

Social and psychological consequences: including stigmatisation, discrimination and prejudice. Research has linked obesity with low self-image, low self-confidence and depression in children and adults.

2.5. Children (Parents) attitudes and behaviour towards obesity (Problem)

Research above has shown that most children do believe their eating habits and diet are considered to be healthy. Parents are the one

3. Audience Profiling

3.1. Segmentation Approach

The role of parents is crucial when it comes to childhood obesity, as they are the one responsible for children's health and diet. The close involvement of parents is essential in an overall strategy for improving children's diets and levels of physical activity. Therefore, the proposed campaign is meant to target parents as major public.

Segmentation approaches used:


This segmentation approach is based on the idea that people who live close to one another are likely to have similar financial means, tastes, preferences, lifestyles, and consumption habits (Schiffman & Kanuk 2007).


Psychographic segmentation identifies consumers and divides them into a number of different groups by their measured activities, interests and opinions. (Schiffman & Kanuk 2007).

3.2. Target Audience

Based on two different segmentation approaches, we have identified our target audience as followings.


Areas where people live with lower income tend to have more obese children than other cities (NHS 2009). It has been observed that these children would often come from price and bargain shoppers' families as they belong to low-income groups. In addition, they are more likely to prefer fastfood which is low-priced and inexpensive instant food due to their economic situations.


Research above has shown that main causes of child obesity are poor diet and lack of physical activity, therefore, the target audience are parents of children with unhealthy diet habits and lack of exercise routines.

4. Theories

4.2. Cognitive Dissonance


Festinger developed cognitive dissonance theory in 1957 (Perloff 1993). The theory states that discomfort or dissonance occurs when a consumer holds conflicting thoughts about a belief or an attitude object (Festinger 1957 cited Perloff 1993). Dissonance is described as the feeling of uncomfortable tension which comes from holding two conflicting thoughts in the mind at the same time. The discomfort often feels like a tension between the two opposing thoughts. When an individual experiences cognitive dissonance, he/she looks for consistency among their cognitions (Perloff 1993). This highlights that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance by changing their attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours (Festinger 1957 cited Perloff 1993). When there is an inconsistency between attitudes and behaviours, something must change to eliminate the dissonance. Hence, cognitive dissonance is a powerful motivator that will often lead us to change one or other of the conflicting belief or action (Festinger 1957 cited Perloff 1993). C

ognitive dissonance is also central to many forms of persuasion to change beliefs, values, attitudes and behaviours. Therefore, cognitive dissonance will be an effective tool to use in the campaign.

Linkage between cognitive dissonance theory and the proposed campaign:

Cognitive dissonance has been shown to affect attitudes and behaviour by creating inconsistent cognitions within individuals (Draycott & Dabbs 1998). By causing parents to feel cognitive dissonance between their attitudes and behaviour towards diet of their children they would be more likely to reassess their eating patterns. After encountering cognitive dissonance, an individual parent may realise increased levels of risk and worry regarding their negative health behaviours, which, in turn, could help to influence positive behavioural intentions.

Parents would feel the need to reduce any dissonance that they feel between their attitudes and behaviours of nurturing their children. Our campaign will focus on the message that can actively help parents change their children's diet. The dissonance that one feels can have a varying impact on behavioural intentions, depending on the circumstances associated with the dissonance.

4.3. Guilt appeal


Ghingold (1980) asserts that cognitive dissonance theory provides a theoretical structure for understanding guilt-induced behaviour; thus, it is easy to see the linkage between guilt and dissonance. When an individual experiences feelings of guilt, he or she can also experience dissonant cognition and will attempt to reduce the feeling of guilt by making retributions (Ghingold 1980). According to Izard (1977:451),

"Guilt results from one's violation of an internalized moral, ethical, or religious code and is the emotion most essential to the development of conscience and moral behaviour."

It is also an internal emotional response and one of the most common negative feelings across culture (Izard 1977).

Three types of reactions to guilt:

There are three types of reactions to guilt identified in the literature: anticipatory, reactive and existential (Rawlings 1970). Firstly, Anticipatory guilt is experienced as one contemplates a potential violation of internalized standards (Rawlings 1970). Anticipatory guilt occurs where a person thinks about violating standards. Anticipatory guilt appeals offer people an opportunity to avoid a transgression.

Rawlings (1970) calls Reactive guilt a response to having violated one's own standards of acceptable behaviour. A failure to help previously could evoke guilt and thus this may have an influence on behaviour. Godek and LaBarge (2006) indicate that Reactive guilt is more negative than anticipatory guilt due to its reference to past negative events. Thus, it is more likely to evoke unintended emotions (Coulter et al. 1999) such as anger and irritation, and this may have a negative effect on behaviour.

Existential guilt is experienced due to a discrepancy between one's well-being and the well-being of others (Izard 1977). Existential guilt is widely used in the social sciences context. In fact, over 85% of charities and non-profits use this type of guilt appeal (Huhmann and Brotherton 1997). The continuous use of this type of guilt appeal may limit the effectiveness of the advertisements due to viewers constantly learning about the advertiser's persuasion techniques (Friestad and Wright 1994).

Linkage between guilt theory and the proposed campaign

Our persuasive campaign targeting childhood obesity uses human being strong reaction to the feeling of guilt. This campaign transmits the message that parents of obese children should be aware of that they are the one who are responsible for their children's health and diet. It is important to emphasise parents' responsibility because the feeling of responsibility is the major guilt inducing feeling in our conscience and makes possible behaviour that minimizes intense experiential guilt (Izard 1977). In addition, the experience of guilt can bind the person to the source of guilt and only can be released through resolution that tends to restore social harmony (Izard 1977).

Particularly, anticipatory guilt has been used in the advertisement as it is viewed as a more positive form of guilt leading to action as a mean of avoiding the feeling of guilt (Rawlings 1970 cited in Lindsey 2005). The campaign offers to the individuals/public a chance to prevent a potential disaster. Failure to help could induce a guilty feeling, but the individuals/the public being also the individuals in the advertising campaign are given the opportunity to avoid the feeling of guilt. Thus, it is suggested that, Anticipatory guilt is considered as the most positive and result-yearning guilt feeling. It can also have a positive influence on behaviour.

5. Campaign

5.1. Campaign Objectives

To attract people's attention & interest to the issue by the use of strong visuals

To generate traffic to the website

To change parents' behaviours

5.2. Campaign Execution

This is one of the visuals that will be used in the campaign. As it is explained before, cognitive dissonance and guilt appeal have been applied.

Cognitive Dissonance

In campaign

To show parents the gap between what they think and what they do

To expose target audiences to their own hypocrisy

Dissonance between parents' attitude and behaviour

Attitude: "Giving burgers or sweets to children is unhealthy and is one of main factors that cause obesity."

Behaviour: "Feeding them burgers and sweets because my kids love it and I cannot disappoint them".

Guilt appeal

To arise an anticipatory guilt in target audience's minds

Offer an opportunity to avoid unwanted future consequences and a guilty feeling

Campaign Message

"If you keep feeding your children the way you do now, your children will be obese and overweight in the future and give you a reproachful look."

6. Limitations

Human persuasion process is so complex that it does not work that simple. There is a number of limitations that the theories have.

Cognitive dissonance

The weakness of this concept is its effectiveness is dependent on the audience. Perloff (1993:235) asserted, "All persuasion is fundamentally self-persuasion." It means that an individual himself/herself is the actual one who makes a decision. Moreover, people selectively process information they receive and ignore information which they think does not relate to them. Although the campaign tries to persuade the target audience, if parents do not rationalize and instead completely denies that there is anything wrong with the way they give food to their children, then they will not experience the inconsistency of beliefs and only hold what they think as true. Therefore, the targeted parents will not have cognitive dissonance.

Guilt appeal

Although explicit guilt appeal may create greater guilt, they may also arouse other negative that interfere with persuasive success (O'Keefe 0000). It seems that guilt appeal can also evoke reactions such as anger and annoyance. The possibility of arousal of all the feelings at once will be less powerful to change the target audience's attitudes and behaviours.

7. Conclusion

Childhood obesity has become a substantial social problem to deal with because it can lead to premature death in the future. In order to raise awareness of childhood obesity and encourage people to change their attitudes and behaviours towards the issue, the campaign has applied two theories: cognitive dissonance theory and guilt appeal. Campaign tends to cause parents to feel cognitive dissonance between their attitudes and behaviour towards diet of their children so that they would be more likely to reassess their eating patterns. With cognitive dissonance theory, as parents are the one who should be responsible for children's health and diet, the campaign will emphasise on parents' responsibility by arising the feeling of guilt in their minds. It attempts to make the target audience feel guilty to influence their behaviour.

We strongly believe that the campaign will be most effective to change the target audience's attitudes and behaviours towards childhood obesity. If we can evoke guilt successfully through this campaign, we can develop our campaign further by offering the target audience solutions to minimise the feeling of guilt.