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Obesity Initiative at UGA

Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

From cutting carbs to reducing sodium, weight loss tips are plentiful in the media. Even tips based on research studies often appear to contradict the findings of other studies. With an abundance of obesity research, cutting through the noise to help reduce obesity can be challenging for those involved in health communication. Ultimately, helping people lose weight may be more about helping them change their habits than simply providing them with information, according to experts involved with UGA’s Obesity Initiative.

“I think a lot of times people would like to believe if I just tell you how many calories you’re consuming … that in and of itself will help people interested in losing weight,” said Glen Nowak, who is a professor and director of the Center for Health and Risk Communication in UGA’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. “It’s much more difficult than that.”

Effective health communications involves helping people change their lifestyle. Experts say the best combination for losing weight is still counting calories and exercising. But to encourage people to adopt these behaviors, communication efforts have to call attention to rewards or incentives, according to Nowak. For people to alter their habits, they often have to recognize what they are going to gain from the change.

Nowak co-leads the UGA Obesity Initiative’s Persuasive Health and Marketing Communication Team, along with Karen King, who is the Jim Kennedy Professor of New Media in UGA’s Grady College. The team hopes to collaborate with others involved in obesity research and outreach to help achieve this behavior change.

While health communications alone is not enough to combat obesity, it is still a vital part of interventions, according to Nowak.

“You really do need good communications to get people’s attention, to get them to do something,” Nowak said.