PT: We have come to accept obesity as somewhat sexy. If you look at rap videos, and whatever these magazines are — King, XXL, whatever — basically, you have young girls who are obese. And we have highlighted them and featured them as being some type of sex symbol. So young girls look at that, and they have no consciousness of the relationship between weight and health.
There’s probably also an economic dynamic as well. In our community, there are certain food deserts where you can’t find healthy options. It was a big deal here in Michigan when Whole Foods decided that they were going to build a facility in one of those areas.
And the [sometimes generic] messaging that comes from the government and certain entities is just really, really poor. Anytime someone says the same thing over and over again and you’re not getting results, that’s a problem with the person presenting the information.
There’s a study out of Baltimore where they took a sign and put it next to a pop machine, saying how many miles you would need to run to burn off a can of pop. And pop sales went down. That’s a different message than what you would normally hear about the number of calories. By changing the messaging to address that audience, they were able to change the results there.
[The lesson for anti-obesity advocates:] Don’t keep saying the same dumb thing over and over and expect communities to change. Say it differently based on what the community is … I think if you hire an African-American advertising agency to explore — or if you had a spokesperson like me who knows my community and can speak to how it operates — [results] would be different. [An ad about healthy living] needs to be culturally appropriate. Car companies gear their messages to different communities. The same thing should happen with health and nutrition.
Jenée Desmond-Harris is The Root’s staff writer.