I’m sure many of you have heard it from your doctor before, and for health care providers out there, I’m sure you’ve said it many times: even though you feel perfectly well and have no symptoms, take this medication now, because it will decrease the risk of disease decades down the road.  These words are often met with reluctance on the part of the patient – why take a medication when you are feeling well today?

At the inaugural International School for Obesity Research and Management this past week, I had the opportunity to both discuss my own research, as well as interact with colleagues who share my passion for obesity research, treatment, and prevention.  One session that really stands out was about social marketing, presented by Dr Sameer Deshpande from the University of Lethbridge.  Dr Deshpande dealt with this very issue of the human tendency to focus on NOW, in the context of the food industry’s marketing of unhealthy food products.  Have you ever noticed how junk food is most often marketed with messages of instant gratification, such as McDonald’s ‘I’m Lovin’ It’, ‘Snickers Really Satisfies’, ‘Pop Your Hunger with Pizza Pops’?  Or how about the messages that promise an instant catapult into the world of glory, coolness, or success: ‘Pepsi: The Taste of a New Generation’ and ‘Red Bull Gives You Wings’ are shining examples of this.

These selling strategies are taken because marketing research has shown time and time again that messages that promise an instant benefit are the most appealing to consumers.  In the battle against obesity and related diseases, these considerations must also be taken into account in the promotion of  healthier food choices.  For example, reduced salt products are preferable to the full salt variety, to decrease the risk of conditions such as high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke.  To appeal to the ‘NOW’,  such a product should be marketed with a slogan such as ‘just as satisfying as the high salt original’, rather than ‘decrease your risk of high blood pressure by eating the low salt brand’.

The appeal of NOW is much harder to target when it comes to preventative medications.  For example, we often advise patients to take cholesterol lowering medication in order to prevent heart disease and stroke.  In most cases, high cholesterol is without symptoms for years until problems related to narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis) start to manifest.  I’m very keen to hear what my readers may think about this issue, and how they might suggest that health care providers could better approach the use of preventative medication.

Dr Sue Pedersen www.drsue.ca © 2011 drsuetalks@gmail.com

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