Social marketing-based communications to integrate and support the HEALTHY study intervention

Int J Obes (Lond). 2009 Aug;33 Suppl 4(Suppl 4):S52-9. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2009.117.


The HEALTHY study was a randomized, controlled, multicenter, middle school-based, multifaceted intervention designed to reduce risk factors for the development of type 2 diabetes. The study randomized 42 middle schools to intervention or control, and followed students from the sixth to the eighth grades. Participants were a racially, ethnically and geographically diverse cohort from across the United States. Here, we describe the conceptual underpinnings and design of the social marketing-based communications component of the HEALTHY study intervention that combined changes in the school nutrition and physical education (PE) environment with behavior change initiatives. The communications intervention component coordinated multiple elements to deliver campaigns that served to integrate and support all aspects of the HEALTHY intervention. The campaigns unfolded across five semesters of middle school, each targeting a specific theme related to the HEALTHY objectives. Communications campaigns comprised (1) core elements such as branding, posters, banners and visual and verbal messaging, (2) student events supporting the nutrition, PE and behavior intervention components through the application of social marketing and communications strategies, including the incorporation of student-generated media and (3) distribution of premiums and theme enhancers to extend the visibility of the study beyond the intervention environment. Formative research conducted with students, parents and school administrators was used to refine the communications strategy. Student peer communicators selected from the student body were involved to influence the normative student environment. Marketing and creative design experts developed a brand, logo, activities and materials. In the latter half of the study, student-generated messages and media were used to reflect local interests and culture and enhance peer influence. The HEALTHY intervention delivery and impact were strengthened by the communications strategies. The HEALTHY experience provides practical considerations for systematically incorporating a social marketing-based communications approach within future school-based health behavior interventions.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Communication
  • Curriculum
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / prevention & control*
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Health Promotion / organization & administration*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Obesity / prevention & control*
  • Schools*
  • Social Marketing*
  • Students
  • United States