Sheffield City Council

Creating a social movement to save a city from sugar

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.


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. 


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. 

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. 


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 in its first phase, but ini­tial feed­back has been very encour­ag­ing and we are recruit­ing new fol­low­ers on Face­book and Insta­gram daily. 

Take a look at the web­site: www​.sheffield​is​s​weete​nough​.org

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