Tubby Kids 'Put Off By Weight Loss Campaigns'

Overweight youngsters are put off by campaigns that try to get them to lose weight by concentrating on the way they look - and are likely to gorge even more, a study shows.

They are no more motivated to change their eating habits than those who are happy with their appearance, say researchers.

But getting children of all shapes and sizes to think more about their bodies - not necessarily favourably or unfavourably - makes them much more receptive to campaigns about losing weight and keeping healthy.

Marketing expert Ekant Veer who studied 330 obese schoolchildren aged between 13 and 18 praised TV shows such as those by chef Jamie Oliver for highlighting health issues.

He said: "Saying 'this is ugly - this is pretty' does not help and is likely to send overweight children into a vicious downward spiral where they eat because they feel unattractive.

"They are more likely to listen when the issue is approached in a neutral sense that simply encourages a certain lifestyle because it is healthy.

"This is where Jamie Oliver gets it right because he does not suggest things like 'this person is ugly' but just gets kids to think 'this food is good for you - and this isn't.'

"Anecdotally there is evidence that telling someone they are unattractive because they are overweight demotivates them to shed the pounds and our research seems to back this up."

In the first study into the effectiveness of obesity campaigns Mr Veer found some children said there was a big difference between their body size and that of the smaller size they wanted to be.

But these children were no more motivated to change by dieting and exercise than those who were close to their ideal weights, the study found.

One-in-four of those whose ideal size was much thinner than their own size (26 per cent) said they wanted to eat healthier and exercise more - and 25 per cent of those who were close to their weight said the same.

But Mr Veer, a lecturer in the marketing group at Bath University's School of Management, also split the children into two groups - one of which was asked to draw a picture of themselves.

Both groups were then shown one of two types of advertising posters - one a motivational poster urging them to get in shape and the other an educational poster giving them specific advice on how to lose weight.

Three -quarters (75 per cent) of those who had drawn the picture of themselves - and who had therefore had to think about their bodies - said they would eat healthier and exercise more after seeing the advertisements compared to only 58 per cent of those who had not drawn a picture of themselves.

Mr Veer said: "These results show that when a student is thinking about their size, the use of ads to encourage them to eat healthier or be more active has a significant effect.

"This research shows getting young people to think about themselves frequently makes them much more receptive to campaigns giving information about how to eat more healthily and to exercise.

"TV shows such as those involving Jamie Oliver and school dinners are an excellent starting point since they will make school children think about their weight - without making the children feel like they are not attractive or worthless. These types of messages don't work.

"Health professionals should bear this in mind when they come to create campaigns or their efforts could be a waste of resources."

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