If Kids Eat Candy, Do the Terrorists Win?

by Shannon Rasp December 17, 2010 01:44 PM

Michelle Obama, who has embraced child obesity as her “cause” while her husband is president, recently stated that one in four young adults is “too fat” for military service. This, she claims, is a “threat to national security.”


This incident popped into my head while I was reading Nick’s blog on Wednesday about how politicians would benefit from some knowledge translation training. Childhood (and adult) obesity is a national health crisis. It costs billions of dollars a year, causes a variety of co-morbidities, and is largely avoidable. As a chubster, I know I would feel a heck of a lot better if I could lose the excess weight I’m hauling around. While it is a major problem, it is not a threat to national security.


Why? Simple math. There are fewer than one and a half million Americans on active military duty at any given time. Meanwhile, there are over 75 million children in this country. Now, my math skills are beyond atrocious, but even I know that if you subtract a quarter of all children from this total, that still leaves over 56 million kids for 1.4 million places.  That seems like a pretty big pool to choose from. 


Obama should be commended for her willingness to tackle a difficult subject. But she needs to learn that scare tactics and melodramatic statements do not help her cause. Knowledge translation is just that – the sharing of knowledge, not hyperbole. Bill Novelli addressed this issue in KT Exchange podcast #4, which members can listen to on the site. What do you think?  Do you have any favorite hysterical statements by politicians? Or do you disagree with me? Let me know in the comments!

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Is There Power in Storytelling?

by Rick Austin October 27, 2010 11:55 AM

As we’ve continued to build our library of knowledge translation podcasts, I’ve noticed two themes that have frequently emerged. First, that there is a gulf between researchers and users in the U.S., fomented by competition, the profit motive, and the fragmented nature of the research funding system. It’s time for this gulf to be bridged. Second, that mere information, albeit well-qualified evidence, is not enough. Decision-making is often not logical, and is strongly influenced by emotion and personal connection. In short, tell a powerful story, and you stand a better chance of persuading your audience. Here’s what some of our podcast speakers have had to say:


Jonathan Lomas, founding chief executive of the Canadian Health Services Research Foundation: “Try and create more interactive forums. It’s not a coincidence that the VA and Kaiser Permanente are constantly held up in the U.S. as beacons to which people should aspire. It’s that both of those organizations have very strong in-built research and development activities  …that are embedded  in the day to day operation of their health systems. They actually have a very effective information system that is used to generate discussion and debate between those who are producing research and those who should be using it on the front lines …that infrastructure around interaction and data is one of the main keys to (their) successful performance.”


Bob Emery, public health professor and media go-to-guy for The University of Texas Houston campus: “We have an obligation as scientists to help translate this information for public consumption, and if we leave it to the media to do it by themselves, we may not have as good a control as if we were involved in it and helped translate it.  …it’s our obligation to attempt to communicate to the community we serve, but keep in mind that it has to be reduced down in some way, so try not to jam 50 pounds in a 30-pound sack.”


Joanne Silberner, science and health journalist: “When you get a patient whose story people can relate to, that’s the key to taking a story that you think is important, but incomprehensible, and making it comprehensible, and in fact, making it important …putting a face on it always works.”


Laurie Johnson, reporter for KUHF radio in Houston: “If we can attach an element of news to a character and to a place, it does bring it to life in a different way.”


Bill Novelli, founder of Porter/Novelli and former CEO of AARP: “Iconography and images… are a very important part of persuasion. It’s a very important part of social change. You don’t start there, you start with cold-eyed strategies, but you need to be creative, you need to express your messages well. And you need, as the old saying goes, to appeal to the heart as well as the head.”


If you’re a registered member of KTExchange and you’d like to listen to some of these podcasts, you can go to the “KT Tools” menu, then “Podcasts.” If you’re not yet a member, it’s free and easy to sign up.


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Where Can I Get Me Some Procter & Gamble Coin?

by Rick Austin September 29, 2010 04:44 PM

In his recent blog entry, Craig Lefebvre, who tweets as @chiefmaven, points to a blog by Rosabeth Moss Kanter at the Harvard business school (not to be confused with social media guru Beth Kanter), praising Procter & Gamble’s recently announced “values-based” business strategy. Kanter describes how P&G is using this strategy to create new growth opportunities both domestically and internationally. She quotes CEO Bob McDonald on P&G’s purpose: “We will provide branded products of superior quality and value that improve the lives of the world's consumers, now and for generations to come. As a result, consumers will reward us with leadership sales, profit and value creations, allowing our people, our shareholders, and the communities in which we live and work to prosper.”


I hope they truly mean it, because if they do, it’s an admirable framing of doing well by doing good. Just remember that even a soulless corporate behemoth like Walmart can give the appearance of caring. Its recession-motivated tagline “Save Money. Live Better” may not survive our eventual economic recovery, but it tapped into the zeitgeist -- this is why you buy your lawnmowers, toothpaste, milk and eggs from that store; because you're saving money so you can live better. Personally, however, I stay away from its farm-raised Chilean salmon.


Craig speaks admiringly of the sophistication of P&G’s operation, and rightly so. For many years, it has been justly feared by its competitors. Everyone sees them coming; they telegraph their every move, but in the end, it doesn't matter. When they enter your market, they will crush you. They will out-advertise you, they will out-incentivize you, they will out-distribute you, and it's all backed by their confidence in - in most cases - years of research on formulation, packaging, and pricing. Which is why I find it odd that Craig would recommend to public health practitioners in his blog that one way to become more innovative in public health is to not wait for evidence bases to develop. I hope what he meant by that was don’t fall into the earnest researcher’s trap of paralysis by analysis. (“It’s a significant correlation, but we don’t have all the evidence we need, let’s wait until we can do further research.”)


We don’t have the financial resources of P&G (estimated annual advertising budget: $8.2 billion), we don’t have the consolidated global reach, but we do have evidence on our side. While that’s certainly not enough, as any social marketer worth their salt (like Craig) will tell you, it’s the right place to start, because this is our strength; it's what we have that no one else does.


In our podcast interview with Bill Novelli*, he speaks passionately about social marketers’ need for sustainability in their programs. He points out that both basic human nature and the marketers on the other side of the fence (big tobacco, fast food, snack foods, etc.) mitigate against lasting healthy change.


The only remedies that under-funded, over-worked public health professionals can rely on for sure are evidence and sustainability.


*If you’re signed in to KTExchange, go to KT Tools, then Podcasts, and download Podcast #4 to hear Novelli.


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