Policy makers need to rethink obesity message

May 06, 2004

Policymakers and health professionals must think about motivation as well as information when they promote the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, according to social psychologist Dr Gregg Maio, who will be addressing a high-level conference on Choosing Health? - Tackling Obesity in London today.

Maio, whose research at Cardiff University is funded by ESRC, will tell representatives of the food and leisure sectors, academics, the NHS, and a number of government departments that people don't really think about the benefits of good health. They take it for granted, often until they are stricken by a heart attack or other major illness. He will urge policymakers to test new health initiatives carefully, bearing in mind the psychological obstacles that stop people changing their food and exercise behaviour. 'Although giving out information is important, information is not enough to make people change old habits,' he says. 'More work needs to be done within the school environment, as well as in the family. But we may also have to think about health warnings on foods and advertising.'

In the morning, Professor Jane Wardle of University College London will give a presentation on changing individuals' weights. She will examine the relative effectiveness of systematic behaviour programmes such as Weight Watchers and self-help attempts to lose weight. Professor Wardle will show that a structured approach is usually the most effective and will call for more research into helping people to keep off the weight once they have lost it.

The conference programme will also include several workshops led by experts, and a panel discussion covering a broad spectrum of approaches to reducing obesity levels in the UK including the role of advertising, developing healthy lifestyles in schools and how to achieve and sustain changes in behaviour.
For further information, contact Professor Jane Wardle on 207-679-6642, email: j.wardle@ucl.ac.uk or Dr Greg Maio on 292-087-6260, email: maio@cardiff.ac.uk

Or Iain Stewart, Lesley Lilley or Becky Gammon at the ESRC on 01793 413032/413119/413122

Economic & Social Research Council

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