Recycling was an integral part of a national environmental agenda during the 1960s. The National Environmental Policy Act was passed by Congress in 1969, focusing on renewable resources and recycling depletable assets. Initially, recycling faced barriers such as lack of public participation. Effective social marketing turned waste management from an inconvenience into a respectful use of resources.
Social marketing is a systematic approach to modify behavior by targeting specific audiences. The environmentalists began a systematic process to educate and train young people on recycling, utilizing school recycling, curbside drop-off and educational sessions explaining recycled products. These young people then initiated recycling at home, reminding Mom and Dad about the importance of protecting the environment. They essentially helped modify adult behavior within our homes in the 1970s and 1980s. Social marketing was extremely successful as evidenced by the public support of recycling initiatives today.
So what does recycling have in common with good health habits? We need to utilize social marketing once again, targeting our kindergarten and elementary school children. Chronic disease, obesity and poor health habits did not happen overnight and we need long-term strategies to change behavior. We should educate our young people on proper diet, exercise, obesity, prevention and good health habits in schools. Social issues such as food deserts, poverty and home environment cannot be ignored, but an aggressive focus on teaching our young people can change unhealthy behavior.
If we implement lessons learned from past social marketing successes, we can change “sick care” to “well care,” with our children serving as our greatest support in transforming health care.