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«13TH INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC RELATIONS RESEARCH CONFERENCE “Ethical Issues for Public Relations Practice in a Multicultural World” Holiday Inn ...»

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This study will assist practitioners in creating more culturally tailored messages in e-health communication, contribute to the paucity of literature that analyze public relations strategies in online weight-loss programs, and encourage commercial weight-loss Web sites to increase culturally-relevant factors that may increase participation among minority women and help decrease the disparity in obesity rates.

Obesity and Black Women Obesity is defined as a range of weight that is “greater than what is generally considered healthy for a given height,” or simply, “too much body fat” (American Heart Association, 2008;

Centers for Disease Control, 2009). Obesity’s main culprits are too much caloric intake and too little physical activity. In the U.S., Black women are 60% “more likely to become obese and 50% more likely to be moderately to severely obese” than White women (Befort, Thomas, Daley, Rhode, & Ahluwalia, 2008, p. 410). Furthermore, Black women are less likely to exercise or maintain a healthy diet (Adams-Campbell et al., 2000; Befort, et al., 2008; Hawkins, 2007).

Research shows that economic and social factors are significant contributors of obesity rates among Black women (Barnes, 2007) and that more women would be motivated to decrease calories and increase physical activity if they found more culturally-focused programs that met their needs, which will be discussed in the next section.

Weight-Loss Motivators Researchers have attempted to better understand barriers to weight loss in Black women and the type of messages that will promote weight loss and improved health outcomes (Aldoory, 2001; Mastin & Campo, 2006; Springston & Champion, 2004; Young, Gittelsohn, Charleston, Felix-Aaron, & Appel, 2001). Overall, researchers found that social and economic factors play a significant role in the target audience’s motivation to lose weight (Aldoory, 2001; Eyler et al., 1999; Fitzgibbon et al, 2008; Kumanyika, Wilson, Guilford-Davenport, 1993; PRSA, 2008;

Thomas, et al., 2008; Walcott-McQuigg et al., 2002; Young et al., 2001).

For example, In Thomas et al.’s (2008) study of obesity perceptions of Black and White women, they found that perspiration, access to transportation, and lack of self control were reasons that Black focus group participants cited as barriers to weight loss. In another study, Aldoory (2001) conducted focus groups and interviews with women from various ethnic and cultural backgrounds to understand factors that increase involvement in health communication messages. She found that similar identities (e.g., race, sex, culture), relevant and simple messages, and credible sources were antecedent factors that increase participants’ involvement in seeking and processing health information. Dr. Ian Smith, creator of the 50 Million Pound Challenge program, surveyed approximately 9,000 U.S. African American adults about 378 motivators to losing weight. Participants cited that looking good, free weight-loss interventions, familial, social, and community support, online needs, the importance of fighting back, and being there for grandchildren were factors that encouraged them to lose weight (PRSA, 2008).

Time is also a critical aspect of weight-loss in Black women (Hawkins, 2007). Thomas et al., (2009) found that Black women are inclined to “prioritize the needs of peer and extended family networks over independent, self-determined goal setting” (Thomas et al., 2009, p. 340).

This leaves little time for physical activity and healthy meal preparation for themselves. Thus, weight-loss messages and treatments that use independent goal setting and exclude social and environmental factors are not realistic for Black women (Thomas, 2009).

A strong current running through the research incorporates what one scholar has described as the “Afrocentric paradigm” in affecting positive health outcomes among African Americans (Pittman, 2003). The leading scholar for Afrocentrism, Molefi Asante, has characterized this paradigm as a set of beliefs that positions African culture and history at the center of intellectual inquiry (Asante, 1980; Asante, 1983). This paradigm asserts that there exists an experience of Africanness that defines core identity in common ways for those of African descent, or of the African diaspora (Mazama, 2001). Moreover, what Asante describes as an “Afrocentric orientation” (Turner, 2002) provides a position of positive and affirming selfhood for African Americans. In other words, the contexts that mark this identity provide a framework in which its adherents experience a “victorious consciousness” (Mazama, 2001, p.


Over time, other scholars have sought to apply Afrocentrism to specific disciplines, including design, counseling, history and communication (Armstrong, 2005). Such eclectic applications have unearthed the oft-repeated values on emphasis of community, or a communal identification over an individual identity. This priority leads to an elevation of family connectedness and spirituality as primary values, as well as recognition of holistic mind/body/spirit connections, plus a values system connected to service. As Pittman observes, the extension of collectivity, spirituality, impact and the rhythm of physical activity as cultural values into health studies can yield positive results (Pittman, 2003).

Overall, researchers found that social and economic factors play a significant role in the target audience’s motivation to lose weight, factors such as social and familial support, costs, cultural relevance, spirituality, mind/body/spirit connectedness, similar role models, childcare availability, family responsibilities, and transportation (Aldoory, 2001; Eyler et al., 1999;

Fitzgibbon et al., 2008; Kumanyika, Wilson, Guilford-Davenport, 1993; PRSA, 2008; Thomas, et al., 2008; Walcott-McQuigg et al., 2002; Young et al., 2001).

Weight-Loss Programs Researchers have explored culturally-targeted weight-loss programs to determine their success. Ard, Rosati, and Oddone (2000) created a culturally-sensitive version of the Duke University Rice Diet for 44 Black participants in their 8-week study by decreasing costs of the program, using traditional ethnic dishes with low-salt, low-fat methods, and including participants’ family members in the process. They found that through the use of a culturallysensitive weight-loss program, participants lost approximately 15 pounds, significantly decreased cholesterol and blood pressure numbers, and improved their overall quality of life. Fitzgibbon et al. (2008) conducted an 18-month weight loss and weight-loss maintenance controlled trial for Black women using a culturally-tailored weight-loss program. Researchers controlled for factors

that would help ensure successful weight-loss among Black women:

379 …for weight loss programs to be successful among black women, there must be a recognition and incorporation of the practices, attitudes, and beliefs of this particular subgroup. For example, dietary changes must target foods that are typically reported by black women as being part of their usual dietary patterns. We were cognizant of the importance of offering alternatives that reduce caloric content without sacrificing flavor.

Goals for increased physical activity need to account for potential barriers, such as child care, hair styling, and family and work responsibilities. (Fitzgibbon et al., 2008, p. 1103) The researchers reported no significant differences between the intervention and control groups. However, the study did show that Black women are interested in losing weight, as 213 participants were recruited for the trial and were given no compensation for their participation (Fitzgibbon et al., 2008).

Thomas et al. (2009) found that Black women generally have not found success with mainstream weight-loss programs. In Tsai et al.’s (2009) examination of different weight-loss practices between obese White and minority individuals, researchers found that Blacks and Latinos were “significantly less likely” to use commercial programs such as Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers, which may be influenced by the programs’ costs, promotion of rapid weight loss, or lack of proper monitoring of participants (Tsai et al., 2009). Therefore, mainstream weight-loss programs that lack cultural relevance may decrease Black women’s involvement in the messages and information on Web sites of mainstream weight-loss programs.

Situational Theory of Publics

Grunig’s (1978) situational theory of publics explains why and when publics are most likely to communicate. Members of a public are “affected by the same problem or issue, and behave similarly toward a problem” (Aldoory & Sha, 2008, p. 340). The situational theory of publics looks at level of involvement, problem recognition, and constraint recognition to predict the communication behaviors of information seeking and information processing (Aldoory, 2001; Grunig, 1978; Hamilton, 1992; Major, 1993; Vazquez, 1993). Level of involvement is the extent to which an individual is connected to a problem. Problem recognition represents the extent to which a person recognizes that action is needed to improve a situation. Constraint recognition is the extent to which individuals perceive barriers that inhibit their ability to address a problem (Grunig, 1989; Grunig & Hunt, 1984; Hamilton, 1992; Heath, Liao, & Douglas 1995;

Major, 1993). These three independent variables influence if and how much an individual engages in information processing and information seeking. Information processing is defined as paying attention to a message, even if it is unintentional, or “unplanned discovery of a message, followed by continued processing of it” (Clarke & Kline, 1974, p. 233). Individuals may not seek the information but are exposed to it (Aldoory, 2001). Information seeking, on the other hand, is defined as deliberately searching for information, or “planned scanning of the environment for messages about a specific topic” (Major, 1993, p. 253). This active communication may propel individuals to act on a particular issue. Individuals with high problem recognition of an issue, high involvement in an issue, and low constraint recognition to address the issue will likely engage in information seeking.

–  –  –

Black women will actively seek information and be attuned to the message on weight-loss program Web sites.

Research Question This study examined Jenny Craig, a mainstream commercial weight-loss Web site, and compared it to the 50 Million Pound Challenge site, a culturally-sensitive weight-loss Web site, to see if Jenny Craig offers similar weight-loss motivators for Black women that are exemplified in 50 Million Pound Challenge’s Web site. Based on previous literature, the following research

question was posed:

RQ1: How do Jenny Craig and the 50 Million Pound Challenge Web sites compare in their appeals to Black women?

Methodology This study used a quantitative content analysis and rhetorical analysis to examine Jenny Craig and 50 Million Pound Challenge’s Web sites. The content analysis was used as a quantitative method of counting words, phrases, and graphics to summarize the message on both sites. Furthermore, a rhetorical analysis was used as a qualitative method to examine how authors of each site attempt to persuade their audiences by qualitatively looking at the various components and interpreting how those parts fit together to summarize the message on each site.

The unit of analysis was the home page of each web site. Nielson and Tahir (2002) justified looking at Web site home pages because they are “the most important page of any Web site, getting more page views than any other page” (p. 1). The unit of analysis will be examined for words, phrases, and photos that represent cultural sensitivity and weight-loss motivators for women. The specific variables that represent weight-loss motivators will be discussed later on in the paper. The rhetorical analysis will examine the graphics, the designs, and the voice/authority of each site.

Two coders—one communications professor and the other a communications doctoral student—were employed for this study. The doctoral student completed the content analysis while the professor conducted the rhetorical analysis.

Variables of Interest This study content analyzed the home page of each Web site for direct and indirect references to the following variables: time, social support, family support, similar identities, and program costs.

Time This variable addressed words, phrases, or images that may discuss such things as time constraints; weight-loss methods that members can utilize with limited time; or ways to balance care-giving responsibilities and weight-loss efforts.

Family and Social Support Words, phrases, and photos that reference or encourage family members or family support in the weight loss process were examined. Social support factors include words, phrases, and pictures that connote assistance from friends, buddies, community, associates, or the like in the weight-loss process.

Similar identities Aldoory (2001) found that a strong identity to a woman’s race and ethnicity was “an important predictor of level of involvement with health messages” for the Black female 381 participants (p. 174). Thus, the home page of each Web site was analyzed for photos of images that appear to be African American or of African descent.

Costs References to program costs were analyzed on each Web site.

Content Analysis Results The research question inquired if, and how, Jenny Craig uses weight-loss motivators for Black women on its Web site.

Time Variable Jenny Craig’s home page contained no references to time-management or balancing weight-loss efforts with other responsibilities (Figures 1 and 2). Likewise, there were no references to time-management on the 50 Million Pound Challenge home page (Figures 3 and 4).

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