Effective communications must become a priority in tackling obesity

14 July, 2009. safefood and the All-island Obesity Action Forum recently hosted a workshop, “Communicating to make a Difference”, which looked at communication challenges facing organisations in relation to obesity and showcased best practice processes. With 64% of adults classified as either overweight or obese [1], and 22% of children aged between 5-12 years classified as either overweight or obese [2], there is an urgent need to make people aware of the dangers of obesity.

Effective communication is one of the many challenges faced by health professionals, both in raising awareness of obesity and supporting appropriate behaviour changes. Dr. Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, director of Human Health and Nutrition at safefood said “We know that it is far too simplistic and naïve to just inform people of the bad health and nutrition facts, it just doesn’t work like that. Health professionals today have to be motivational and supportive in their communications, and this is no easy task. For the workshop we wanted to share the latest information on how to communicate with patients one-to-one, what is happening on the island of Ireland in terms of large scale campaigns or in the retail sector, how the media represents obesity and even whether we can communicate effectively with people using new media such as Facebook, Bebo or Twitter. Things are changing fast and we need to be innovative and keep up”.

By raising awareness and knowledge of the issue, safefood and the All-island Obesity Action Forum hope to inspire professionals with new ideas on how best to deal with the increasing obesity levels in their local area and encourage action through shared learning, cooperation and partnership. The workshop provided excellent opportunities for delegates to share experiences on successful communication strategies and to network proactively.

Commenting on the workshop Martin Higgins, Chief Executive safefood, said “Obesity is one of the greatest challenges to public health and there is a need for immediate and effective action. The consumption of more processed foods, in particular, those foods high in fat and sugar such as sugary breakfast cereals and treat foods all contribute to the growing obesity statistics. I believe that continued consultation between industry, health professionals and consumers would help combat this fight against obesity. By facilitating the exchange of ideas and best practice and by promoting networking and collaboration between those working on the area, the Forum provides an ideal platform for joined up thinking and action on the island of Ireland. As an agency with a remit across two jurisdictions, safefood realises the value of a partnership approach in tackling the issue of obesity”.

Linda Bryans, Martin Higgins, Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan



Pictured from left to right: Linda Bryans broadcast journalist, Martin Higgins Chief Executive of safefoodand Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan Director of Human Healh and Nutrition safefood

Attended by a cross section of key stakeholders in physical activity, food and other obesity related areas, the workshop covered issues in communications including use of the internet, emerging communication technologies and additional media channels which provide opportunities for engaging people with healthy eating and physical activity messages. Key speakers on the day included:

  • Mark Davis, Consultant Clinical Psychologist, Belfast City Hospital
  • Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, Director of Human Health & Nutrition, safefood
  • Donald McFetridge, Head of Retail Studies, University of Ulster
  • Tom Nixon, Co-founder and Director Nixon McInnes
  • Linda Bryans, Broadcast Journalist

The All-island Obesity Action Forum comprises of a range of stakeholders including government departments, health agencies, professional bodies, stakeholders working in the field of public health and academic and industry representatives. The forum includes representation from stakeholders with a remit in both healthy eating and physical activity to maximise cohesion. A major function of this group is to identify common action areas in the obesity reduction policies in both Northern Ireland (NI) and Republic of Ireland (ROI) and to facilitate the exchange of good practice and promote networking on the island of island. The forum is facilitated and supported by safefood.

The next networking event will be held early in November, in Dublin. For more information or to register your interest in attending the next All Island Obesity Action Forum networking event please contact the safefood helpline on 1850 40 4567 (ROI), 0800 085 1683 (NI), email obesityforum@safefood.eu or visit www.safefood.eu.

- Ends -

For further information please contact

Susie Cunningham / Cliodhna Lamont, WHPR

Telephone: 01 669 0030 / 087 8505055 (Susie) and 087 9250874 (Cliodhna)

Email: susie.cunningham@ogilvy.com and cliodhna.lamont@ogilvy.com


  1. 1 Adults aged 18-44 years:- 39% overweight (45% men and 33% women) and 25% obese (24% men and 26% women) based on measured rather than self reported data among 2174 adults (SLAN, 2008)
  2. 2 Children aged 5-12 years - 11% overweight and 11% obese – based on n=596 children using the UK90 reference (IUNA, 2005)

Editor’s Notes 

  • Over 300,000 children in Ireland are overweight or obese (Department of Health and Children website)
  • Over one fifth of Irish adults report taking no physical activity (Health Status of the Population of Ireland, 2008 HSE Report)
  • The World Health Organisation has estimated that over 700 million people will be obese by 2015
  • Teenagers aged 13-17 years: – 11% overweight (11% males and 11% females) and 8% obese (9% males and 7% females) based on n=441 using the UK90 reference (O’Neill, J., Launch of the National Teens Food Survey, Dublin, 2008)