Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research

Harnessing the power of advertising to prevent childhood obesity

Andrew Colin Bell1*, Luke Wolfenden12, Rachel Sutherland2, Lucy Coggan3, Kylie Young2, Michael Fitzgerald1, Rebecca Hodder12, Neil Orr4, Andrew J Milat45 and John Wiggers12

Author Affiliations

1 School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Newcastle, Newcastle, Australia

2 Hunter New England Local Health District - Population Health, Locked Bag 10, Wallsend, NSW 2287, Australia

3 Social Marketing/Communication Consultant, Concord, NSW 2137, Australia

4 NSW Ministry of Health, Centre for Epidemiology and Evidence, Locked Mail Bag 961, North Sydney, NSW 2059, Australia

5 School of Public Health, The University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia

For all author emails, please log on.

International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2013, 10:114  doi:10.1186/1479-5868-10-114

Published: 4 October 2013



Social marketing integrates communication campaigns with behavioural and environmental change strategies. Childhood obesity programs could benefit significantly from social marketing but communication campaigns on this issue tend to be stand-alone.


A large-scale multi-setting child obesity prevention program was implemented in the Hunter New England (HNE) region of New South Wales (NSW), Australia from 2005–2010. The program included a series of communication campaigns promoting the program and its key messages: drinking water; getting physically active and; eating more vegetables and fruit. Pre-post telephone surveys (n = 9) were undertaken to evaluate awareness of the campaigns among parents of children aged 2–15 years using repeat cross-sections of randomly selected cohorts. A total of 1,367 parents (HNE = 748, NSW = 619) participated.


At each survey post baseline, HNE parents were significantly more likely to have seen, read or heard about the program and its messages in the media than parents in the remainder of the state (p < 0.001). Further, there was a significant increase in awareness of the program and each of its messages over time in HNE compared to no change over time in NSW (p < 0.001). Awareness was significantly higher (p < 0.05) in HNE compared to NSW after each specific campaign (except the vegetable one) and significantly higher awareness levels were sustained for each campaign until the end of the program. At the end of the program participants without a tertiary education were significantly more likely (p = 0.04) to be aware of the brand campaign (31%) than those with (20%) but there were no other statistically significant socio-demographic differences in awareness.


The Good for Kids communication campaigns increased and maintained awareness of childhood obesity prevention messages. Moreover, messages were delivered equitably to diverse socio-demographic groups within the region.