Sodium Campaign “Give Your Head a Shake” does not cut the Mustard

A  recent article in the  Ottawa Citizen indicates that an ad blitz to get people to reduce the salt in their diets may not have had much impact.

The study could not tell whether the “Give Your Head a Shake” campaign changed any eating habits in a test case in Eastern Ontario.

According to the sponsor of the campaign The “Give Your Head a Shake” health communication campaign (note not a social marketing campaign unfortunately)  is designed to provide Champlain area residents with simple, practical tips to help them reduce the high amount of sodium they consume every day. Although the campaign calls attention to the reasons why residents need to reduce sodium, the main focus is on how residents can easily reduce their sodium.

Local health centres in the Champlain region kicked off a campaign in August 2009 to try to persuade people in the area to consume less sodium. The federal government spent $194,000 to evaluate the results of that campaign. (Nearly 200 K to evaluate a local campaign is a heck of a pile of dough, probably as much as they spent on running the campaign?)

According to the article in the Citizen, the study looked at two groups of adults between the ages of 35 and 50. The Champlain group was exposed to the sodium campaign and a control group in a different town was not.

The “Give Your Head a Shake” campaign consisted of newspaper, television and radio ads. Registered dietitians also came up with dozens of “quick and easy” tips to reduce sodium, such as mixing olive oil, lemon juice and herbs instead of using bottled marinades, or adding your own seasoning to chicken.

Too bad they did not include the other key tactics of a comprehensive campaign (see my social marketing workbook for details on low cost tactics that work in social marketing)

At one point, researchers checked with the groups to see whether they had changed their diets in the last 30 days. They wanted to know if people had been sprinkling less salt on their food or if they had even gone a step further and cut some sodium from their diets. The people in the Champlain group reported adding less salt to their food in the previous month, while the control group did not. But when it came to actually reducing sodium, neither group changed their eating habits in a meaningful way.“There were no significant differences documented for participants reporting they reduced the amount of sodium they ate in the past 30 days,” the study says.

A summary of the first year of the campaign found the Champlain study group seemed to be eating less salt. But it suggests people in Champlain who were not part of the study, but who were nonetheless exposed to the same ad blitz, did not change their eating habits.

“At the community level, there are no differences between the intervention and control community,” the study concludes. “Given campaign awareness is reported among 30 per cent of survey respondents, it is possible that additional exposure to campaign messages would lead to community-level changes. “It is not however possible to say with certainty that the observed differences in the Champlain region are a result of the campaign versus other factors.” “It should also be noted that the findings from this study are preliminary given the study’s small geographic area and volunteer participants,”

By the way in Canada the government has not regulated sodium levels in consumer products but calls on manufacturers and restaurants to voluntarily cut sodium levels in their products.

The average Canadian consumes about 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day, a figure the federal government would like to see lowered to 2,300 milligrams by 2016.

Let’s hope they succeed, but I would not be too optimistic. Canadians love their salt , check out the packaging of most package good products or watch TV chefs add lots of salt in their preparation of food , especially Kosher salt ( why Kosher salt have no idea , I guess its cleaner). And yes go to a restaurant and just watch Canadians furiously adding salt to their meals before tasting it.

One more thing, if the health organizations want to  run campaigns to change peoples behaviour  I suggest they take a social marketing approach to their campaigns. To learn how to develop social marketing campaigns come join us at our social marketing workshop at the  MARCOM  learning fourm or check out our social marketing workbook .

Jim Mintz is the Managing Partner of the Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing where he presently works with a number of public sector and nonprofit clients. He is also Program Director of the “Professional Certificate in Public Sector and Non-Profit Marketing” at the Sprott School of Business at Carleton University. Jim was formerly the Director of Marketing and Corporate Communications at Health Canada where for many years he directed social marketing campaigns in the health area.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

20 + 1 =