The Philadelphia Department of Public Health is unveiling a new media campaign targeting smoking and sugary drinks.

The ads will crop up everywhere - in corner stores, on SEPTA, TV and radio. The campaign is part of the "Get Healthy Philly initiative.

"People are bombarded every day by advertising on TV and on the Internet, as they walk to and from school and work, by advertisements for sugary drinks and from tobacco companies," says Giridhar Mallya, director of policy and planning. "What we're really trying to do is change the equation. We want to surround people with positive messages."

Mallya says the diseases associated with smoking and poor nutrition are the leading causes of death in the city. Over the last decade, they've caused more than 40,000 deaths in Philadelphia alone as they drive up health-care costs.

Some of the ads are targeted at parents. One asks, "Do you know what your child is drinking?"

Amy Jordan at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Center for Public Policy conducted this research. "This campaign was created specifically for Philadelphians," she says, following months of research into parents' beliefs about beverages.

Jordan learned two things about parents that helped shape the campaign. First, they don't notice when their kids gain weight.  "We found that although parents were able to recognize when they themselves were overweight, they didn't recognize when their children are overweight," she says.

Although as many as half of the city's children are overweight, only 20 percent of parents notice. That may be because as more children in the neighborhood get heavier, it's harder to notice their own children's weight gain.

The next hurdle is connecting this obesity -- and diseases such as type 2 diabetes -- to sugary drinks. Take one of the ads where a pediatrician informs a mother that her child is overweight.

"It's news to her and it makes her reflect on what may be contributing to her child's overweight status. She realizes that sugary beverages play an important role," says Jordan.

As part of the campaign, residents will also be able to go online and see the sugar content of common drinks.

 

The same fund that is paying for this initiative awarded a grant to WHYY for the production of FIT, a series that provides information to help people make healthy food and drink choices - whyy.org/fit.