Stop the Spread


safefood is asking adults on the island of Ireland to find out what their waist size is. Having a waist size greater than 32 inches for a woman or 37 inches for a man is a clear indication that a person is carrying excess weight.

The “Stop the Spread” campaign is a two-year, all island initiative by safefood and comprises television and radio advertising as well as a campaign ‘pledge’. The campaign is also supported by pharmacies and chemists across the island of Ireland where consumers can pick up one of 250,000 free measuring tapes from next week.

Target audience: All adults on the island of Ireland

Channels: TV, radio, web, direct communication


Press release: safefood launches “Stop the Spread” campaign to tackle overweight and obesity epidemic

Launch date: 10 May, 2011


Two in 3 people on the island of Ireland are carrying excess weight, yet only 38% recognise they have a weight problem. That means a great proportion of the population are in denial, putting themselves at increased risk of well known diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. This campaign issues a wake up call, asking people to take a hard look at themselves, to find out their own waist measurement, and to "stop the spread".

I am delighted because this campaign is shifting the emphasis to overweight and not just obesity. Because we have edged up in weight over the last 20 years, most people who are overweight think they are just fine because they look “normal”. If you are overweight, all you might need to lose is 6 or 8 pounds – a couple of inches at the waist – to make a big difference to your long-term health. 
Prof. Donal O'Shea, Consultant Endocrinologist and Physician, St Vincent’s University Hospital and St Columcilles Hospital 

Stop the Spread is an awareness campaign to alert people that being overweight is now the ‘norm’, has become visually and socially acceptable and that we no longer recognise the fact that we are carrying extra weight. The campaign’s call to action is urging people to measure their waist to see if they are overweight.

The “Stop the Spread” campaign also addresses what is called the “social contagion effect”, where the chances of being obese are much more likely in a social circle either within a family or a network of friends. Research has shown that a person’s chances of becoming obese increased by 57% if they had a friend who became obese. If one spouse is obese, the likelihood that the other spouse could be obese increases by 37%.

“We are all part of social networks and are influenced by the appearance and behaviour of those around us. Being overweight is now the 'norm' and this norm is widespread in our communities throughout our families and friends. We need to stop the spread of this health epidemic by encouraging and motivating ourselves and others to reassess their own waist and weight, take realistic steps to tackle any excess weight, and begin to live a healthier future.”
Dr Cliodhna Foley Nolan, Director of Human Health and Nutrition, safefood


In February 2011, Millward Brown Landsdowne on behalf of safefood conducted face to face surveys of a representative sample of adults on the IOI. This research provides a benchmark for the campaign to monitor if knowledge levels of the key messages within the campaign change. The research also highlighted public perceptions and attitudes towards weight.  Questions related to:

  • How the public perceive their own weight
  • To what extent the public see a causal link between weight and health
  • To what extent the public believe that being overweight increases the likelihood of family and friends also being overweight 
  • Evaluate all aspects of waist measurement in the context of obesity

Key research findings:

  • IOI adults underestimate the true prevalence of overweight/obesity
  • There is widespread denial about being overweight, and complacency about proactively addressing weight problems
  • The correct way to measure waist size is not understood by all
  • While there is good understanding of how obesity can spread to family/partner, spread within the social circle is vastly underestimated
  • Public information campaign is essentital