We focus on four complex health issues more prevalent in urban areas
With the Social Progress Imperative, we've developed the first neighbourhood level, health-focused social progress index of its kind.
With Wellcome Trust
We want to hear from you.
Use our interactive toolkit to find out how you can change the conversation to improve children’s health.
How we talk about child health and obesity matters.
Where we live, and what we earn, shapes the options available to us to be healthy. But when people think about childhood obesity, it’s seen solely as an issue of lack of willpower and parental failure. An inevitable feature of modern life. And the only solutions that people put forward are for there to be better education about food.
What’s missing in all this? Context.
Which is why we need to tell a new story which shows that what surrounds us, shapes us. And helps to build support for the wider changes needed that will enable all children to thrive and be healthy.
The below recommendations are based on research by the FrameWorks Institute. Read more about our research methodology and findings here.
© 2020 FrameWorks Institute
Framing is making choices about what we say and how we say it.
It’s what we emphasise, how we explain an issue, and what we leave unsaid.
These choices change how people think, feel and act.
Frames are more than just key words or phrases. Frames provide a scaffolding for you to build your communications, helping you to tell the same powerful story but in language that can be adapted for your audience.
Child obesity is a top-of-mind issue for the public, but people think about it in narrow, stigmatising and fatalistic ways. What we say first can trigger helpful or unhelpful mindsets. By leading with children’s health, not child obesity, we can open up a different kind of conversation.
“We need to improve children’s health. When children have enough nutritious food, they are more able to learn and thrive; to chase their dreams and confront their challenges.”
Not like this:
“We need to tackle rising childhood obesity by decreasing the consumption of unhealthy foods and increasing children’s physical activity.”
This is the most important recommendation. If you only remember one thing: make it to lead with health.
Appeal to people’s strong sense that our society should be fairer and more equal, and that all children should have the opportunity to thrive and be healthy, no matter where they live. This establishes why this issue really matters, and why people care about it.
“All children should be treated fairly and have the same chances to thrive and be healthy, no matter where they live. Many families don’t have access to the things children need to be healthy. We can build a brighter future for all children by making sure that our neighbourhoods provide affordable, healthy food options and places where they can run, explore and play.”
“It’s not fair that children and families find it hard to choose healthy lifestyles. Especially ones involved in a day-to-day financial struggle. We all need to make sure that the healthy choice is also the easiest one for families.”
We can use this value in lots of different ways, dialling it up or down depending on who we are speaking to. Like this:
We can use metaphor to help explain how context shapes children’s health. Metaphors paint a picture in people’s minds that guide and shape thinking and can bring abstract concepts to life. This can help to increase understanding and build support for solutions.
Compare the food environment to an unbalanced system of rivers to explain how unhealthy food dominates our surroundings. We can talk about our high streets being flooded with junk food, and that there’s barely a trickle of healthy food available.
“We can improve all children’s health in the UK by working upstream to improve the flow of affordable, healthy food options . Right now, the floodgates of unhealthy food are open wide, and these options are overwhelming children and families.”
“Families are drowning in a tidal wave of unhealthy food. And in its aftermath, it’s impossible for parents and caregivers to make much-needed healthy choices for their children.”
Use the stage metaphor to explain how advertising and marketing practices engineer children’s taste for high-sugar, high-fat, calorie-dense foods.
Paint a picture in which unhealthy food options are placed centre-stage and children are an unwilling audience looking on. Use words like spotlight, star and leading role to talk about junk food and how healthy food is pushed into the background.
“Increased screen time for learning and playing with friends during lockdown, set the stage for junk food companies to put their products in an even brighter spotlight in our children’s minds.”
Instead of this:
“The pandemic has led to children spending more time online to study, play and socialise. We know that children who spend more time online are exposed to more junk food adverts.”
We can add context to individual stories to show how surroundings help or harm our ability to be healthy. This helps to make sure that our stories aren’t dismissed as the result of bad choices. And helps to explain why ending childhood obesity requires us to fix social systems and the world that surrounds us, and not just people.
“Like a lot of families in my neighbourhood, it can be a struggle to put healthy food on the table. The nearest big supermarket is two bus rides away. I work long hours, and look after my mum and my two boys. Compare that to the high street – there’s a flood of fast food places, and takeaways with gigantic portions everywhere you look. Fast food is cheap, it’s filling, and I can pick some up on my way home. Everyone is finding it harder to be healthy here – the healthy options just aren’t there.”
“It’s a real struggle for me to keep my family healthy nowadays. It’s hard to find healthy food at my local store, and I have to pick what works with our lifestyles – which usually means quick, cheap and filling. I do try to choose low-fat, low-sugar things where I can. And I know we all need to cut down on our takeaway treats – but they’re right there, every time I walk home from work!”
A few phrases that bring in context:
Childhood obesity can seem like a problem too overwhelming to be solved. We can combat fatalism by talking about the things we can do to improve children’s health – and explaining how these solutions work.
“We need to act now to improve children’s health in the UK. The floodgates of unhealthy food options are open wide and our children don’t have enough healthy options and opportunities. but we can tackle this and help all children to be healthy with concrete steps that – if we work together – are within our reach.”
“We need to act now to combat the child obesity emergency in the UK. There’s a tidal wave of unhealthy food options and families are drowning. Our society is already damaged – and it will be irreparably damaged for generations unless something changes.”
Check out how BiteBack 2030 put solutions, not junk food, centre-stage in their communications.
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Sign up below and we'll send you the research from FrameWorks, including more information on how to put framing to good use in your work talking about children's health.
When it comes to discussing complex issues around health, the words we use matter, and how an issue is framed can impact our understanding on how best to address it.
We want to break the link between low income and poor nutrition, by improving the quality of food options in lower-income neighbourhoods.
How we're tackling childhood obesity in homes, schools and streets.