Sheffield City Council

Creating a social movement to save a city from sugar

Sheffield City Council want to help local families, schools, businesses, healthcare professionals and community leaders to tackle sugar by creating a social movement that engages all factions of the community. The campaign’s aim is to reduce obesity and tooth decay over a five-year period.

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Interpret + Define

Statistics showed worrying trends in Sheffield. Almost 1 in 4 children are overweight or obese when they start school; 1 in 5 pregnant women are obese nearly 30,000 adults are living with diabetes; and over 76,000 have high blood pressure.

To create a campaign that resonates with local people, we had to get the facts from the people who live there. Working with the council and its partners, we ran a workshop with all project stakeholders including Sheffield University, NHS, dentists and community groups to get them onboard with our mission for population-wide behavior change. To help us understand the core target audiences, we then conducted a series of focus groups with pregnant mothers, parents of children from birth upwards and adults in the general population.

This revealed a general lack of understanding about recommended daily sugar limits and how much sugar different foods contain. It also highlighted that people find food labels misleading and need help to make healthier choices. Our research also showed many women are unaware of the dangers and risks associated with excessive weight gain and obesity during pregnancy.

We also tested our initial campaign messages and creative solutions with these audiences. The general feeling was that hard-hitting messages were well received, as long as the sugar was demonised, not people.

Imagine + Create

Before you can change behaviour, you first need to understand people’s motivations and barriers. Armed with the knowledge from our research phase, it became clear that our audience needed to be educated on the effects of sugar before we could hope to influence their behaviour.

To create a social movement that would build up over time, we developed a five-year strategy based on increasing awareness and understanding (year 1-2); turning that understanding into action (year 2-4); and using those actions for advocacy (year 4-5).

The first part of this strategy means sharing as much information about sugar to as many local people as possible. We decided a campaign website would be a good start, complemented with a social media campaign that could reach out to our community groups, such as brownies and guides.

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Our main campaign visual had to quickly get the core facts across in a memorable way. We chose to feature a line-up of the worst sugar culprits and to develop a targeted ad for each group: pregnant mothers, parents of young children, parents of older children and adults in general. Rather than pointing the finger of blame, each execution highlights the negatives of sugar with an arresting visual and bright backgrounds to maximise standout and campaign recall.

Rise + Shine

To generate awareness and understanding, we created a campaign website Sheffield is Sweet Enough to outline the recommended daily limits of sugar, identify some of the worst offenders for too much sugar and help people to make healthy food swaps.

This also contains information about the health benefits of reducing sugar intake and educates visitors on the best way to incorporate healthy eating into their lives. We’re driving traffic to the site via social media activity on Facebook and Instagram. Our social media content is also supported and shared by all project stakeholders and local community groups to help these positive behavior changes become seeded in the whole community and become the start of our social movement.

We continued to increase awareness of sugar intake in other materials such as posters, TV graphics and leaflets for GP’s waiting rooms and the facilities ocommunity groups, plus inserts in maternity booklets for pregnant women.

Education resources for nurseries and community groups, such as scouts and guides, are also available to download to help children of all ages understand more about sugar and its impact. For schools, we have created lesson plans, assembly presentations and homework ideas which invite pupils to become ‘sugar detectives’ in a range of engaging activities. Certificates have been created to give out to pupils on completion.

To generate maximum PR, we launched the campaign at Woodthorpe Community Primary School, where the children could take part in our sugar-based activities. The event was covered by BBC Radio Sheffield, Look North, The Sheffield Star, The Sheffield Telegraph and even received commentary in Professor Barry Gibson’s blog who is the research lead for the Population and Person Centred Oral Health Group (PAPOR) at Sheffield School of Clinical Dentistry.

The campaign is now in its fifth year and we've executed the strategy from education to advocacy. Multiple audiences have connected with our community events, school activities, healthcare comms, social media posts and OOH campaigns. We even helped to create and publish a recipe book written by and for local people. It's always hard to quantify success on behaviour-change campaigns but the level of interaction with all of our touchpoints and the crucial relationships we've fostered with stakeholders has left a legacy for generations to come.

Take a look at the website: