Right Idea, Wrong Strategy? Colorado’s Error in Thinking (Part 1)

The first of its kind, an exciting statewide effort is underway in Colorado to use advertisements and community engagement to destigmatize obesity, with the ultimate aim of helping resident make healthier choices.

I’m all for destigmatizing obesity. Feeling stigmatized about one’s weight causes negatives like:

  • low self-esteem.
  • unhelpful (and desperate) approaches to long-term behavior change.
  • vicious cycles of failures.

At first I was excited about this campaign. It sounded very progressive and a great thing to do. But, after thinking more about it Colorado’s initiative has become a lot more gray.

Colorado’s expensive state-wide advertising strategy is based on the premise that teaching individuals that they are “obese” instead of just “overweight” will cause people to realize the error of their ways and leap into making healthier choices.

Yet, I know of no research showing that obese people will make better health-behavior decisions if they perceive themselves as obese instead of overweight.

I watched a video of SuzAnne on the LivingWell website, and found her story and decision to be moving. Yet, the way she described learning she was “obese,” ironically, used language that to me seemed to further stigmatize obesity.

I also don’t buy that discovering you are officially “obese”  (instead of overweight) will motivate a more sustainable behavior change any more than having a clinician tell you that you need to lose weight to improve your health.  Has that strategy worked well for Americans? Not for the majority.

This is a complex issue!  Check back soon for Part 2 of my critique of Colorado’s campaign.

What do you think? Is it a good idea to help people discover that they are obese (instead of overweight) to better motivate lasting health behaviors – Why or Why not?

behavioral branding, media, Obesity, Oprah, Social Marketing, Stigma


  • Maryann Jacobsen

    I agree with you Michelle!  Telling people they are worse off than they think they are will not help.  I have found that most people do not like the word “obese” and I don’t blame them.  We need to focus less on weight and more on what really motivates people to make lasting, healthy changes.  Like the work you are doing!  

    • http://michellesegar.com dr. michelle segar

      I am away for a few days, and will get back to you as soon as I can. Michelle

  • http://www.michellesegar.com Michelle

    Thanks for your thoughts Maryann. I would like to see the original study findings that lead them to design this new campaign….

    • http://michellesegar.com dr. michelle segar

      I am away for a few days, and will get back to you as soon as I can. Michelle