Coalition for Healthy Children Creates Messages on Physical Activity and Healthy Eating

Field of Work: Childhood obesity.

Problem Synopsis: In June 2004, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation sponsored the Time/ABC News Summit on Obesity—a national conference on the causes of and potential solutions to the nation's obesity problem. The 400 attendees included representatives of the Advertising Council (Ad Council). One of the key themes of the Summit was that every organization has a role to play in reversing the obesity "epidemic." In response, the Ad Council wanted to help children and parents better understand the importance of healthy eating and physical activity.

The proliferating and often conflicting advertising claims and news stories on diet and exercise left children confused and parents feeling overwhelmed, the organization's leaders believed. What was needed, they reasoned, was a set of consistent, research-based, educational messages.

Synopsis of the Work: From 2005 through 2009, the Ad Council developed and directed a communications campaign to encourage children to exercise and adopt healthy eating habits. The council developed and market tested a series of messages and organized a group of food and beverage corporations, other companies, nonprofit organizations and government agencies to disseminate the messages through their individual communications efforts. The group—named the Coalition for Healthy Children—had more than 50 member organizations.

The Ad Council also commissioned surveys to track the campaign's effect on parents and children. Independent of the council, the Berkeley Media Studies Group evaluated television food and beverage advertising and child-directed ads on the Internet.

Key Results

  • The campaign messages reached millions of children and parents through the marketing and communications programs of the coalition members.

  • The tracking survey results were mixed. The data indicated positive shifts in kids' attitudes and behaviors regarding physical activity but not "in other areas necessary for children to attain a healthy lifestyle."

  • The Berkeley Media Studies Group found that TV food and beverage ads overall promote an unhealthful diet, and that many of the foods and beverages advertised on children's websites are products that children should avoid.