People have many reasons for joining a social movement. They may make a rational choice in that they see the benefits of joining the movement as greater than the risks. Joining a movement may help form or define an identity, whether a self-identity, a social or collective identity, or a public identity. People may be attracted by the possibilities for social interaction, which provides social support and, especially for stigmatized groups, can enhance feelings of efficacy and performance. Joining a social movement may help people avoid personal failure by exchanging personal responsibility for collective responsibility. Finally, emotional responses can be a powerful motivator.
As an example of this last factor, Robinson described an experiment he conducted at Stanford with a class called Food and Society. The course covers agricultural policies, labor issues, consumerism, animal rights, animal welfare, environmental issues, and other topics related to food and agriculture that are not necessarily directly related to nutrition and health. When the eating behaviors of students who took this class were compared with those of students who took classes on obesity or public health nutrition, the former students were found to have changed their eating behaviors significantly more than the latter students (Hekler et al., 2010).
Social movements have the potential to influence public policy through the mobilization of families, governments, markets, and civil society, Robinson observed. In turn, new norms, laws, or regulations can further promote individual change, creating a self-reinforcing feedback loop of change.
Piggybacking obesity prevention on existing social movements makes it possible to leapfrog the difficult process of starting a social movement from scratch, Robinson concluded. There are many examples of such movements, as illustrated by the workshop presentations, and they are already proving to be highly motivating to segments of the population (Robinson, 2010b). They have the potential to produce dramatic and sustained changes in behavior, and these behavioral changes can be magnified through changes in norms and public policy. Teaming with existing social movements can create many new allies, resources, and strategies for the obesity prevention movement.
Chapter 2 examines a particular alliance in more detail. Mission: Readiness4 is an initiative led by a group of retired military leaders to enhance military preparedness by reducing obesity and increasing fitness among potential recruits. This initiative has been part of an unexpected alliance,