You are what you eat? Online and offline consumption

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The internet is increasingly influencing our diet and attitudes towards food – from online advertising about the latest diet plan, to accessing nutritional information about what you’re eating, ordering take-away via a smartphone and mobile applications able to assist with developing a grocery list.

The recent media discussions regarding traffic light food labelling have made nutrition a hot national topic – even more so now information about any kind of food is available at the press of a button. We’ve also seen an explosion of apps designed to help us make considered decisions about food and avoid the danger of eating hidden fats and sugars.  One that was launched this week is ‘food switch’- positioned as a tool to empower Australian shoppers to make healthier food choices. The app allows users to scan the barcode of packaged foods using their iPhone camera and receive easy to understand nutritional advice.

New Year resolutions

January is typically the month to kick-start our healthy eating resolutions and the nation’s dietitians are encouraging Australians to take part in a healthy ‘pledge’ campaign in tangent with Australia’s Healthy Weight Week (22-29 January). This social-media based campaign encourages users to publish their pledges via a Facebook page and Twitter profile. Ten years ago, such a supportive and motivating digital platform would not have existed, but in today’s social media environment, we are able to benefit from immediate, interactive digital programs.

Facebook

Online support

Weight management is also big business online, with the availability of personalised online tools for those who want to access support and information in the comfort of their homes. This is particularly helpful to those situated in remote areas of Australia and who don’t feel comfortable attending a face-to-face meeting. Weight Watchers Online enables people to remotely track what they are eating, monitor their weight and develop an interactive shopping list.

The Government has also launched a number of digital initiatives providing nutritional support. There is the Healthy kids: Eat well, get active website, positioned as a ‘one stop shop’ of information about healthy eating and physical activity for parents and carers, teachers and childcare workers, health and other professionals and kids and teens . There is also the Government’s digital Swap It, Don’t Stop It campaign encompassing a mobile app and website, helping users to make healthier choices.

Accredited practicing dietitian and infant nutritionist Kate di Prima says, “More often than not, patients I see are educated about food and what they’re feeding their families. A contributing factor is the plethora of information accessible via the internet. It’s important to use reputable sources – there is a lot of dialogue happening, which can sometimes seem overwhelming. The flip side is we’re inspired to cook more adventurously and use ingredients that we may not have previously considered.”

Fashionable nutrition

Indeed, examples such as the Create Nutrition blog and journalist/media commentator Sarah Wilson’s blog define modern, fashionable nutrition.

In this day and age, smartphones mean that every one of us is a potential food critic, having the ability to write immediate, online reviews, while seated in the restaurant. This in turn means that food standards need to be high.

Fruit

It will be interesting to see what the future holds and if the shelf life of online nutrition tools expires before the groceries go off!

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Developing an engaging Facebook page for your business

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With more than 10 million users in Australia alone and 500 million global users, Facebook is one of the most influential websites in the world. Increasingly, patients are researching their condition and treatment approach online and Facebook is a very useful resource to share experiences with others and to gain further insights. Here are some simple ways that you can maximise engagement on your Facebook business page.

Focus on your audience and their needs

As with any marketing and communications messaging, it’s important to focus on the outcomes and your audience. Who are you talking to and engaging with on your Facebook page, and what would they value from you? If you have a range of insights that you deliver to clients as part of your services, consider seeding some of these into your Facebook page. Be clear about who you are talking to and be sure to offer them something of ‘value’ – whether that be expert advice, topical news or an offer.

Plan your posts

Publishing valuable content on your business Facebook page is crucial to maximise the audience’s engagement. Scheduling what you want to say and when you want to say it avoids repetition and ensures you integrate different aspects of your communications plan on the Facebook page. Planning content avoids any last minute panics and translates to higher quality posts and enables consistent messaging. The most effective way to do this is to create a content calendar and set aside time each week/month to plan what you are going to say.

Good content is crucial

It seems obvious, but if you publish good quality content, people will return to your Facebook page and will share links with their friends. Here are some top tips to encourage engagement:

1)      Include links to support your message

2)      Be personal – your page is the face of your organisation or your brand

3)      Be active and update your page frequently

4)      Engage with your audience. If someone asks a question ensure you answer it

5)      Have a social media framework in place in case anyone posts defamatory content

6)      When publishing health specific content, remember it must comply must with the ASMI, MA, TGA codes and other relevant industry regulations

7)      Monitor your page – if someone publishes spam, immediately delete it

8)      Think about what would add value to the audience, e.g. a tip of the day may demonstrate your expertise as well as be of use to the audience

9)      Upload varied content, this could include videos and podcasts

Frequency of posting

It is the quality of content, not the quantity that matters. Research shows that businesses who post weekly on their Facebook page get the same result as those who post daily. Always think about the time of day you post content and when your key audience is available.

So what does this mean for the pharma industry?

Pharmaceutical companies face the challenge to host a branded Facebook page which complies with industry regulations and also acts as a forum where patients can have a two way dialogue. The FDA, ASMI, TGA and MA is yet to determine official guidelines for pharmaceutical  brands operating in digital media, so understandably, pharmaceutical companies are cautious in their decision making about how to use Facebook pages as part of their marketing strategy.

 women's confidential

Women’s Confidential Australian Facebook page

As a business, it is important to be within the digital space that your key audience is using. Many organisations are hosting successful unbranded Facebook pages – take a look at the Australian Women’s confidential page from makers of Canesten®. This site is positioned as the “modern girls survival guide offering advice fashion, beauty and health tips.”

The Can you feel my pain? page developed by Pfizer is an exemplary unbranded Facebook page raising awareness about chronic pain and working in collaboration with leading patient and citizen organisations across Europe.

 Can you feel my pain? Facebook page

Can you feel my pain? Facebook page

Evidently, there are strategies to host engaging Facebook pages that educate patients and do not contravene regulatory guidelines.

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Will Gillard get health?

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Last week’s departure of former PM Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard’s ascent into leadership broke Australian news site traffic records. And with every other media outlet in the country still running red hot with Gillard news, it would seem almost unfair not to mention our new PM’s impact on health policy.
 
As a start, Julia Gillard has proficient experience in the area, serving for three years as the Opposition health spokeswoman during Abbott’s tenure as Federal Health Minister. She has also been involved in Rudd’s own ‘health revolution’.
 
A recent Galaxy poll shows nearly a quarter of us want to see a fast-track of the health reforms as a first priority. But what do the various industry bodies have to say about whether or not health policy will be given the red light by the new leadership?
 
The doctors
 
The AMA says that a leadership change is not likely to change the track of health policy. The group is also of the belief that Rudd’s National Health and Hospitals Network will remain in place.
 
The nurses
 
The ANF believes Gillard has what it takes to win the election – ‘Australians want a hospital, aged care and primary health care system that works and Labor has demonstrated a keen understanding of this’. The group also welcomes the first female PM into the fold.

The e-health experts
 
…say Gillard gets it and they look forward to see how the e-health agenda progresses.

The mental health advocates
 
Mental health experts are hopeful that our new leader will put mental health higher on the agenda. A great deal of momentum developed in the lead up to the leadership shake up, with over 60 organisations delivering nearly 100,000 signatories calling for an urgent focus on mental health – but this was unfortunately delivered to the wrong PM.

Professor Patrick McGorry sees this momentum as an incredible opportunity for the Gillard Government to take action and score some ‘brownie points’ in the lead up to the election.

But watch out Julia – Tony Abbott just pledged $1.5b to improve front-line mental health services if the Coalition is elected.
 
Health got a mention in Julia Gillard’s acceptance speech (video below, in case you missed it). Will this enthusiasm translate into action?

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What makes a ‘healthy’ health awareness campaign?

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Following the combined efforts of six different cancer organisations (Bowel Cancer Australia, the Gut Foundation, the GI Cancer Institute, the Bowel Cancer Foundation, the National Bowel Cancer Coalition and the Cancer Council Australia) last week in raising awareness of Australia’s second largest cancer killer, bowel cancer, it prompted us to ask: what makes a ‘healthy’ health awareness campaign?

Poignant call to action

Poignant call to action

If we take a look at Bowel Cancer Awareness Week as the most recent example, the issue dominated health news headlines all week, generating some 200 media impressions each day.

While there were varying messages from all of the organisations vying for a voice, the most common and resounding messages were: this is a cancer beginning to hit younger people (emotional), screening is critical (call-to-action) and society needs to put ‘social awkwardness’ aside when it comes to talking about bowel cancer (quirkiness).

Some organisations harnessed the power of celebrity to get their message across including Lara Bingle, George Calombaris and John Singleton, while others embraced research, personal stories and a touch of humour to spread the word.

With over 160 local, national and international health awareness days, weeks and months formally recognised by the Australian Department of Health & Ageing each year, why is it that some stand out from the crowd and demand such public and media attention, like Bowel Cancer Awareness Week, while others remain almost unheard of?

We know that not all health awareness campaigns are created equal and when embarking on a health awareness campaign, whether it’s an NGO, charity or pharmaceutical company, there needs to be a number of critical ingredients in place for a level of noise to be achieved. A host of important decisions must be made and depending on the topic/issue in question, one may find they have to work that little bit harder than their counterparts to pique the interest of media and ultimately get their target audience to act.

Working in the area of health and having played a part in many a health awareness campaign over the years, we’ve put together our top tips (with a couple of examples showing these in action) for what can help make a ‘healthy’ health awareness campaign:

1. Compelling, new research & statistics

2. Clear call-to-action that can be measured

3. Celebrity/high profile personality including MPs

4. Appeals to wider community – not just those that are affected

5. Real life stories

6. Specialists, key opinion leaders, clinical spokespeople

7. Original, creative or quirky take on getting the message across

8. Finding a journalist/media outlet with a personal connection

9. Ways to extend the campaign beyond the ‘day’, ‘week’ or ‘month’

10. Strong online presence

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2 health social media campaigns worth a look

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Whilst on the topic of the health impact of the ‘digital age’, it is worthwhile exploring the power its most current and relevant offspring, social media, has in disseminating health messages and empowering the public.

While it is impossible to talk about all successful campaigns at once (and this is something Cube will be keeping an eye out for), below are two campaigns which have caught our attention:

1. Twitter Autism Day

In this simple and effective example, Twitter was used to create a channel for sufferers of autism and their careAutism Awarenessrs to share their knowledge and experiences of life with autism. Communication and misunderstanding are some of the obstacles faced by people with autism. Twitter was an appropriate medium for this particular disease area, helping sufferers address these obstacles. It also allowed the community an opportunity to show their support by following and re-tweeting. A hashtag was created to help. Twitter Autism Day became a trending topic and this speaks volumes for the success of the campaign in raising awareness and public understanding of the condition (via Engaging Social Media).    

2. Digital Men’s Health Campaign

With last week marking YouTube’s 5th birthday – it is impossible not to give the popular video sharing site a hat-tip. Particularly, as sharing video content online is becoming increasingly important (41% of Australians streamline or download videos).

Click here to view is a reel which encapsulates an interesting digital campaign, developed internationally by the industry, in the area of men’s health (via http://pharmadigital.wordpress.com/). Below is a snapshot of some of the digital content generated.

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Always on the line…is social media bad for your health?

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This week has seen a resurgence in discussion about the effect mobile phones are having on our health, with a large international study receiving widespread media coverage. Suggestions about the health impact of our mobile phone habits are a popular topic, so it may be worthwhile considering the impact the so-called ‘digital age’ and the resulting constant connectivity has on our health.

Our very smart phones allow us to stay connected, longer. But next time you are getting through the flurry of work emails on your Blackberry/iPhone while in traffic or on the bus, or even at home in front of the telly, consider this: a recent study has linked working overtime to an increased risk of heart disease.

This is worrying, considering a survey found nearly one third of Americans feel they need to stay connected to work 24/7, even during weekends and holidays. With Australians working the longest hours of any other country, we must be batting a similar average.

And with almost a third of us now using our mobiles to tweet and update our Facebook accounts, is it any wonder there are suggestions some are becoming addicted? In light of this, Facebook apps like this are eerily ironic.

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Is brown the new green?

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For those of us who awoke from our self-induced chocolate coma on Tuesday and waddled into work, only to hear an annoying workmate say “I just had one or two little chocies over Easter”, hold your head high – WE have done our health a world of good!

If you Google the ‘health benefits of brussel sprouts’ there are a mere 78,400 mentions. However, try ‘health benefits of chocolate’ and you’ll be deluged with a whopping 2,150,000! Clearly brown is the new green.

We all love hearing things that are bad for us may actually be good for us.

We’ve known for some years now that chocolate may be good for your heart. Cocoa beans contain polyphenols, a type of antioxidant that may protect against heart disease and cancer.

Last week the media focused on results of a German study which provided further evidence regarding this link. Published in a reputable journal, it included a large research population (almost 20,000 that was part of a larger cancer study) and was carried out by an independent foundation with no conflict of interest declared. The study ticked a lot of important boxes to be taken seriously.Age old question - is chocolate good for you?

‘The more chocolate the better’ was one of the timely pre-Easter messages.  Commencing my dance of joy I noticed the kicker – the difference between ‘more’ and ‘less’ in the study was a mere six grams of chocolate. That’s less than one small square of a 100g bar. And, it really needs to be dark chocolate. No dance.

Then there are the psychological benefits of chocolate. These articles always begin well – “An apple a day? Make that a chocolate bar.”  Whilst that probably sent dietitians around the country into apoplectic shock, it works for me! The smooth indulgence has been said to trigger the same chemical reactions as some anti-depressant medications. It also triggers the release of those feel good endorphins. When was the last time a celery stick gave you a warm fuzzy feeling? 

Surprisingly, chocolate has been found to contain a healthier saturated fat. Chocolate, on average, is approximately 30-45% fat of which around 20% is saturated fat and half of that is stearic acid which does not affect blood cholesterol levels.  In fact, an RMIT study found people who ate 100 grams of chocolate a day had smaller platelets in their blood after three weeks, which could help reduce the risk of coagulation.

And if that isn’t enough to convince you that brown is the new green, Japanese research found that the polyphenols in chocolate can actually prevent dental caries.

So the next time that workmate is sipping mung bean and lentil soup, let your endorphins run free, flash those pearly whites and rest easy in the knowledge that we chocolate lovers are simply oozing health!

 

Guest written by Maria Padua, PR consultant and chocolate devotee

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Stand up if you sit down too much

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The working year is now in full swing – gone are the summer holidays filled with long walks, backyard cricket and swimming at the beach. We’re now at our desks and computer screens resulting in hours of sitting, slouching and stillness.

Australians are internationally applauded for a love of the laid-back lifestyle and viewed from afar as masters of the work-life balance. But did you know the average Aussie spends 1855 hours per year at work which The Australia Institute believes is the highest number of hours in the developed world?

With so many of us chained to the chair and staring at screens for most of the day it’s unsettling to learn the possible health ramifications of this ‘sedentary schedule’.

Is sitting down a health hazard?

Is sitting down a health hazard?

Perhaps the least surprising consequence was found in a study revealing sitting down as the culprit of headaches and back, neck, shoulder and arm pain.

More concerning is the fact that staying idle can also put us at risk of death from heart disease. In New Zealand, researchers discovered sitting at a computer for hours on end can cause fatal blood clots, just as long flights can lead to deep vein thrombosis. (Apparently they discovered the link when a 32-year-old man who sat at his computer terminal for up to 18 hours a day nearly died). 

It’s easy to assume going to the gym, running and participating in team sports before or after work will reverse the potential risks of a sedentary desk schedule – however they remain even if we exercise regularly.

According to Sydney-based personal trainer and life coach Rob Derbyshire, many of the aches and pains ‘desk devotees’ suffer from are caused by posture problems.

Poor posture is likely to be brought on by tight muscles (mainly the quads, hip flexors and abdominals (prolonged sitting is again responsible) and weak/lengthened muscles (such as the glutes, deep core muscles, and upper back including rhomboids & lower traps), which are relaxed whilst sitting and not regularly contracted to defy gravity.

As with any condition, prevention is better than cure, so to prevent postural problems it is important to possess a good amount of functional strength, flexibility and stability – and importantly core strength.

Here are Rob’s simple strategies to combat poor posture and move more at work:

  • Sitting on a fit ball 50% of the time
  • Stretching & moving around regularly throughout the working day – take the stairs, make a cup of tea or simply wander to colleague’s desk to say G’day
  • Setting up your desk to the correct ergonomic specs
  • Embarking on a posture improving exercise plan, like yoga, Pilates or a class run by a skilled personal trainer
  • Avoiding exercise that is contra-indicative to good posture such as, lots of sit ups and activities that repeatedly perform the same movement
  • Indulging in a massage or learn some SMFR (Self Myofascial Release) techniques

You’re probably sitting down at your desk right now…so get up, move and make 2010 the year you take your work health standing up, not sitting down!

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Will you be love sick – or love well – this Valentine’s Day?

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As Saint Valentine shines his bow and sharpens his arrow in preparation for a pop at lovers around the world on Sunday 14th February, the question on everyone’s pursed lips is this: is love good or bad for your health?valentines_day

Take the time to Google the topic and you will come across a wide range of opinions – for some it can cure all our ills, yet for others it’s the very cause of them.

If you are a believer in love and its positive powers, you’d be forgiven for wondering why modern medicine exists at all. Expert comment and research draws conclusions including ‘love makes you smarter’ (as it improves memory by triggering brain cells), ‘love helps fight cancer’ (promoting killer cell activity), ‘love is good for your heart’ (makes it beats faster and increases blood supply whilst lowers blood pressure) and even the Holy Grail, ‘love makes you live longer’ (scarily, social isolation increases the risk of early death).

Based on this high-level science, how could anyone claim love is bad for you? Google doesn’t make it too easy to find scientific information on the lower points of love. But it does readily offer in one long list the plethora of popular music dedicated to the downsides of dating.

In 1960 The Everly Brothers were blunt in their summations (Love Hurts) and Jon Bon Jovi sang about love being ‘bad medicine’ in the 1980s. More recently, American Idol winner Jordin Sparks asked “why does love always feels like a battlefield?”

And we’ve all been party – directly or indirectly – to a conversation where one half of a couple claims emphatically that the other will in fact ‘be the death’ of them.

Whatever your relationship status perhaps it’s wisest to take note of Whitney Houston’s 1986 smash hit song – The Greatest Love of All – where she claimed it was simply learning to love yourself.

Well, at least until Johnny Depp or Angelina Jolie arrives. Happy Valentine’s Day!

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