Universal policy asks

  • Make this a collective and inclusive issue that affects us all, especially young people, with a focus on improving health
  • Use the rivers metaphor to help people see that this is an issue that needs policy attention and avoid fatalism
  • Use the stage metaphor to advocate for changes to marketing and promotion
  • Avoid focusing in on individual families – this encourages people to see childhood obesity as an individual-level problem, requiring individual-level solutions.


As a society, we must tackle childhood obesity. We all have the ability to be healthy – and every day, we need to make the right choices that make this possible. Like the Thompson family in Fenton West, who signed our ‘Healthy Choices’ pledge – and made a daily commitment to eat healthily and stay active.


As a society, we must put our children’s health first. We all need healthy options and opportunities to flourish and to thrive – and yet every day, we’re flooded with unhealthy food. Vending machines piled high, fast-food shops everywhere you look, buy-one-get-one free deals in every supermarket… it’s overwhelming for families. Our politicians can and must act to stem this flood.

See how Caroline Cerny of the Obesity Health Alliance put this into practice, with a media response

Targeted policy asks

  • Focus on what all children need to be healthier; and what some places and contexts are failing to provide
  • Avoid focusing on the characteristics of individuals or aspects that could be seen as individual failings.


Kids in Hackney are more than twice as likely to have obesity as kids in Maidenhead. High levels of consumption for high-sugar, high-fat food combines with some of the lowest levels of physical activity in the UK. Our politicians can put this right by…


The place that you’re born in shouldn’t hold you back. But kids in Hackney are more than twice as likely to have obesity as kids in Maidenhead. It’s harder for them to access the opportunities all kids need to be healthy – an unfairness our politicians can put right by….

Pitching programmes and initiatives

  • Use the rivers metaphor to show how different initiatives can play a part without presenting them as the solution
  • Avoid reinforcing the harmful beliefs that people hold about childhood obesity.


It can be so hard for busy parents to make healthy choices for their families. Parent support programmes are bringing down childhood obesity rates by helping parents to set boundaries for their children and say no to sweets and junk food.


Parents often feel like they are swimming against a powerful flood of unhealthy food. Programmes that support families can work as a lifeboat and help improve children’s health. But we need to address the causes of the flood and work upstream to keep all children healthy.

Guidances for schools and families

  • Normalise the support, not the struggle. Put solutions centre-stage
  • Extend the rivers metaphor to talk about solutions and support – like lifeboats, rafts, floodgates
  • Avoid language that triggers judgement and individual blame – like lifestyles, ‘better decisions,’ and ‘better choices’
  • Avoid language that implies education or willpower is the only solution to poor health.


Modern life makes it hard to stay healthy. Our ‘Active Lives’ programme helps busy parents prioritise staying active to fight childhood obesity. Amy joined this programme in 2019: “‘Active Lives’ helped me make the right decisions for me and my family. I’ve made small changes to our lives that have made a big difference.”


Every child deserves the opportunity to be healthy, no matter where they live. Our ‘Active Neighbourhoods’ programme breaks down barriers to health for families – and works to improve every child’s health. Amy joined this programme in 2019: “‘Active Neighbourhoods’ has given us more opportunities to be healthy – like weekly park runs, supervised outdoor play for the kids, and safer bike routes. These small changes to our environment have made a big difference.”

Writing long-form content

  • Extend the rivers or stage metaphor throughout your piece – but don’t mix them unless you have to
  • Check the balance between articulating problems and solutions. For every dose of crisis, you need at least 2 doses of “can do.”
  • Sharpen focus on context and surroundings with images that show barriers to (or opportunities for) health in our environment.

See how former Chief Medical Officer Sally Davies put this into practice, with an independent report

Writing in different tones

We can adapt tone to purpose by changing our levels of stridency and force. These can be dialled up or down as needed.

Like this, using the fair places value


Make sure talk of crisis is focused on a crisis of environment, not of individual behaviour. Use the stage and rivers metaphor to keep focus on people’s surroundings and context.


We can also dial up or down the scale of an identified problem: “We urgently need to close the floodgates” indicates a bigger challenge than calls to “balance the flow.”

See how BiteBack 2030 have put this into practice with an open letter from young people

Media Interviews

Interviewers can activate harmful assumptions with the questions they ask. We can disrupt these assumptions with ‘spot, bridge and move.’

  • Spot the harmful beliefs that might be activated by a question
  • Bridge away from those beliefs – with a bridging phrase, or by picking up on an aspect of the question that’s helpful
  • Move with a reframed answer that responds to those harmful beliefs.

We can also incorporate framing recommendations into spokespeople briefings and key messages.

Here’s what this could look like in practice:

Q: Kids like sweet foods – and eating too many sweets make you obese. Some parents just don’t care enough to step up and stop kids from eating junk. Isn’t that right


Spot – this question ignores the role of advertising in engineering tastes, others, and blames parents for individual, personal failings.


Everyone likes sweet food! But there’s no way that parents can control everything their kids do. Kids can order fast food online from their phones, delivered straight to their doors… It’s too hard, and it’s asking too much. That’s why we need to support parents – not criticise them.


We all need to put children’s health first. And when unhealthy options are in the spotlight – with TV and online advertising targeted directly at children – it’s not surprising that junk food has a starring role in kids minds. It’s past time to close the curtain on junk food ads aimed at children – for every child’s health.


Metaphor trigger strong mental images – so journalists will often pull them into article headlines.

Social media

Incorporate the framing recommendations into social media strategies and across channels. We can also use default public thinking to inform audience personas.

Here’s what this could look like in practice:

Harness existing conventions on instagram with framed images, stories and inspiring quotes:

Drive site visits and tap into existing conversations:

Share thematic stories that tie into policy and programme needs:

Google Ads
Drive site visits for specific landing pages: