en•gage•ment (in-geidj-mint)

1. The act of engaging or the state of being engaged.
2. Betrothal.
3. Something that serves to engage; a pledge.
4. A promise or agreement to be at a particular place at a particular time.
5. a. Employment, especially for a specified time.
b. A specific, often limited, period of employment.
6. A hostile encounter; a battle.
7. The condition of being in gear.
Synonyms: engagement, appointment, assignation, date1, rendezvous, tryst
These nouns denote a commitment to appear at a certain time and place: a business engagement; a dental appointment; a secret assignation; a date to play tennis; a rendezvous of agents at the border; a lovers’ tryst.

I do believe after many years of courtship and conflict, the various groups of stakeholders in the ever-expanding waistlines of New Zealanders are finally approaching engagement.  There’s not a lot of tangible evidence of productive engagement yet, but the scene is set.

[The cynic in me is bearing in mind that using the above definition, engagement can mean both betrothal and battle...]

Last week I attended the popular Edgar Centre for Diabetes Research and Prior Policy Centre’s Who Cares About New Zealand’s Waistline? seminar held in Wellington.

Much of the discussion was not new – but the format was.

As Professor Jim Mann explains here, the event was designed to portray evidence and practice from several of the key “actor groups” previously identified by the United Nations as influencing the health of populations.  The “actor groups” chosen to contribute at this event were Food Industry, Government, Civil Society Organisations, Schools & Families, Media and Workplace.

Researchers were asked to present the case for evidence-based action in each sector and each sector was asked to respond with what has been and what could be done in New Zealand.

I was particularly struck by the lack of hard evidence for any one intervention within each “actor group” having a major impact on obesity rates (with the exception of better town and transport planning).  Although every group demonstrated tangible evidence that they’re doing their bit – some better than others – within each area.  And no-one can deny that the combined effect of many coordinated interventions involving many different actor groups would likely be substantial, if any such research project existed to provide the hard evidence.  Presently it’s an ambitious dream, but monitoring action and research in this way on an annual basis will hopefully show progress.

Tariana Turia impressed us all with her personal and compassionate concern for the issues.  You can read her speech here.

Professor Grant Schofield from AUT was bold enough to admit that people don’t want to hear public health messages.  He suggested we need to re-frame the problem/issues into solutions/benefits/outcomes our audiences can relate to.  This was also backed up by sentiments expressed in the media session by Lorelei Mason and Jim Tully about what consumers want.

Re-framing the issue is something done particularly well by the private sector.  Engaging in marketing and business tactics used successfully by the private sector are exactly what could make the difference to public sector campaigns.  In a recent inspirational TED presentation by Melinda Gates, she stated (of the need for aspirational marketing in health) “…<health agencies> assume when people need something we don’t have to make them want it”. It’s very true.

Which brings me back to the need for real engagement between all actor groups to engage New Zealanders in the issues.  The main point I took from the research outcomes presented was that working away diligently in silos is not likely to trim our waistlines one iota.

Well done to Professor Jim Mann and his team – who did a lot of the legwork to pull together the programme.  It was a refreshing approach.

Categories: Food and Nutrition Events, Food Industry, Food Trends, Health Promotion, Nutrition and Health, Scientific Research

Tags: , , , , ,