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In the Republic of Ireland, one in three children are overweight and one in five are obese. Poor eating habits and lack of regular physical activity are key contributors to this issue. According to a 2006 Health Behavior study, less than one in five Irish school-aged children reported eating fruits and vegetables more than once a day, while only half exercised on a regular basis.

Research demonstrated that the majority of mothers of overweight or obese children had skewed perceptions and believed their children’s weight was fine. Parents who did understand the issue often felt overwhelmed by it. Research also revealed that six in 10 parents felt that getting their children to eat healthy food was a struggle.

To tackle the issue, it was crucial to engage parents and adult caregivers in the effort to improve their children’s nutrition and increase their level of physical activity. In order to accomplish that, parents needed to understand the benefits of healthy eating and physical activity and the importance of their own lifestyles in influencing children’s behaviors and habits.


Applying social marketing principles, a strategy was developed to change parents’ beliefs about obesity and its risks and to increase their understanding that small, singular, sustained changes could help have a big impact over time and lead to a healthier future. The campaign strategy was designed to help support and empower parents and adult caregivers to become positive role models for their children.

The strategy was translated into the “Little Steps” campaign, which integrated online and off-line components to influence parents and caregivers. A comprehensive website coupled with a sustained public health awareness effort to drive traffic to the site were the core elements of the campaign. The messaging strategy used humor to appeal to both parents and children and to convey positive messages about the little steps that can be made to improve physical activity and nutrition.

The campaign offered realistic and practical advice to support parents’ attempts to make little changes in their family’s diet and physical activity levels. Parents received, for instance, useful tips for healthier shopping, advice on different ways to increase activity as a family and handy hints on how to deal with snacks and treats at home.


Research shows positive changes in parents’ behaviors. More than half of parents report replacing unhealthy food with healthier options and using raw ingredients in meal preparation. Almost one in three parents is spending more time with his/her children doing physical activity and 75% are encouraging children to reduce or avoid foods containing added sugar.

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