Communication is an important issue for health professionals if they want their health promotion activities to have an impact. If health professionals are not able to communicate with obese patients successfully, no matter what they do or say, it will fail to impact positively. When presenting health promotion activities, the issues of development, communication, learning and teaching all come together, as well as knowledge of health promotion itself.
The most recent developments in health communication to obese patients reflect the evolving belief that the health communication process is multidirectional as the general population enthusiastically seeks information from the immediate, accessible formats available to them from the Internet. This has created a model of communication that is no longer an expert-driven top-down model of communication, but a non-hierarchical, horizontal form of communication. Manoj and John (2011, p.61) also concur with this idea and suggested a communication model which emphasizes this bottom-up and horizontal approach.
This model assumes that communication can be expert-generated as well as side-to-side sharing (horizontal). It is suggested that effective health communication must entail active two-way action between healthcare professionals and patients (Neuhauser and Kreps 2010; Smith 1989). This view emphasizes that in order for change to occur, i.e. in health behavior like obesity, the patient must take more of a proactive part in the communication process instead of passively receiving messages.
Obesity is generally defined as the unnatural or abnormal increase of fat in fatty tissue to the level that shape may be marred (WHO 1998).
Obesity provides an excellent case in how health promotion is changing. However, to relate health promotional messages to obese patients, key behavioral goals must be considered by a health professional. These behavioral goals are much the same as ever- to encourage people to become more physically active and eat healthier diets – ‘move a little more and eat a little less’. Though, the ways in which the messages are put across are changing through more sophisticated marketing, increasing use of the new digital media and harnessing the muscle of the commercial sector – particularly the food industry (Neuhauser and Kreps 2010).
In relating health promotion message to obese patients and encouraging the public to make lifestyle changes the ‘Three Es’ model calls for action on three broad fronts – encouragement, empowerment and environment.
Encouragement: this is an approach of motivating people to adopt a healthier lifestyle –eating more fruits and vegetables and becoming more active. Many health campaigns are all about encouragement. So too is one-to-one diet and exercise advice from a doctor or other health professionals. But encouragement is rarely effective without empowerment.
Empowerment: This approach helps people to gain the life skills, self-assurance, control and freedom to make healthy choices. Much of basic education is about empowerment. So too is teaching cooking skills, working with particular community groups and helping people get access to useful advice and information. But empowerment and encouragement also need a healthful environment.
Environment: This is shorthand for ensuring that the physical, social, cultural and economic environment in which people live, work and play is favorable to health – otherwise stated health public policy. Example with regards to obesity includes increasing access to affordable fruit and vegetables, self-explanatory nutritional labeling and safe places to walk and cycle.
This is an important approach because it will help obese patients to proactively take part in the health promotional messages relayed to them.
Manoj, S & John, R 2011, Theoretical Foundations of Health Education and Health Promotion, Jones & Bartlett Publishers, Sudbury.
Neuhauser, L & Kreps, L 2010, Ehealth communication and behavior change: promise and performance. Social Semiotics, vol. 20, pp. 7–24
Smith, D. H 1989, Studying health communication: an agenda for the future. Health Commu, vol.1, pp. 17–28
WHO 1998, Obesity: preventing and managing the global epidemic. Working Group on Obesity, World Health Organization, Geneva.