• A systematic and continuing campaign to reach youth who are themselves making energy balance decisions that affect their risk of obesity.

The federal government’s recently launched VERB campaign is one example of a youth-focused campaign and presents an opportunity to examine the long-term impact of a multimedia campaign focused on promoting physical activity in youth, one component of preventing obesity. As noted above, preliminary results are positive for an early phase of the campaign. CDC has made substantial investment in this program and, given the positive first results, further investments should follow over a longer term.

Regarding the systematic campaign to reach youth, the committee specifically endorses the continuation of VERB funding to ensure the possibility of fully realizing the social marketing campaign’s potential and to evaluate its long-term impact. This proposal is costly. Thus, based on a rigorous evaluation over the long term, resources should be redirected if results are not promising in meeting the three components of the campaign. In addition, the committee notes that physical activity is but one side of the energy equation. Additional resources should be provided for a complementary campaign focusing on energy-intake behaviors.

Funding for the national multimedia and public relations campaign should include sufficient budgets to purchase media time for the campaign’s advertising, rather than relying on donated time, as well as to support the professional implementation and careful evaluation of the campaign’s effects. While DHHS’s Small Steps program intends to depend on contributed airtime under the auspices of the Advertising Council (DHHS, 2004), the committee suggests that it is not a promising route for frequently reaching the public. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation study showed that the average television station rarely plays such public service announcements during periods when most adults are in the viewing audience (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2002). Some campaigns have had success in obtaining donated time on stations where they had also purchased time (Randolph and Viswanath, 2004), but that is merely a strategy for stretching resources more effectively. In general, a campaign that depends on contributed time is quite unlikely to satisfy its objectives.

Input should be sought from independent experts and representatives of other federal, state, and local agencies, nonprofit organizations, and, where appropriate, industry representatives to construct a broad and evolving strategy that includes all three of the areas of focus described above. These efforts, which need a long-term mandate from Congress, should be aimed at the general population and specific high-risk subgroups, and their staffs should be able to carefully assess targets of opportunity and rebalance their strategies as circumstances change.

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