Theoretical Background and research questions/hypothesis: Although obesity is a problem for the US population as a whole and globally, the African American Collaborative Obesity Research Network (AACORN) has a special focus on obesity as a major health issue for US black communities. Solutions to the obesity epidemic involve the very social fabric in which we live, work, and play. Permanent solutions to obesity must, therefore, be community-centered. However, obesity is a very challenging topic with respect to the public conversation. Because obesity is a personal issue for many people, is defined socio-culturally rather than only medically and tends to be stigmatized, public views may be particularly likely to differ from those of medical and public health experts. Much of the public health discourse on obesity-related health disparities centers around how black Americans compare with white Americans, with largely untested assumptions about how these discussions are being heard and interpreted by members of black communities. Research conducted by AACORN members and others suggests that views of black community members, or policy makers who represent black communities, may not align with the picture that is portrayed by public health experts with respect to: 1) how ‘obesity’ is defined, 2) how weight levels affect health, 3) the fairness or acceptability of certain strategies proposed to reduce obesity prevalence in black communities, and 4) who can or should lead related change initiatives. Within this context, it is critical to ask how communications about obesity can be tailored for maximum effectiveness with black audiences.
Methods: AACORN convened a workshop entitled "Bridging Communication Gaps to Achieve Healthy Weight in Black Communities," in Charlotte, North Carolina in August 2014. Workshop participants included academic researchers and scholars-in-training with expertise in nutrition, physical activity, weight control, marketing, and communications as well as community partners, including faith-based leaders, and media professionals.
Results: With theoretical and practical guidance from the experts in communications and marketing, workshop participants explored aspects of message environments related to food, physical activity, and weight affecting black children and adults and ways to effectively target black communities with health positive messages in this domain. Specific recommendations were generated for components of the SMCRE (Sender, Message, Channel, Receiver, Effect) framework. Considerations include the varying cultural perspectives and influences within black communities related to gender and body size, differences across generations, and the ability to identify approaches that capitalize on the assets of target audience.
Conclusions: Proceedings underscored the importance of applying general principles of effective communications. In addition, with the caveat that problematic outcomes can arise even with a well planned and executed approach, discussions highlighted a number of principles relevant to meeting receivers within their cultural frameworks for consideration when developing and implementing weight-related health communications for black audiences.
Implications for research and/or practice: Initiatives and policies informed by community contexts and perspectives are needed to improve environments for making healthy food and physical activity choices and achieving healthy weights in black communities. The need for certain pre-requisites to motivate and support change should be acknowledged.