The storytelling power of photography
The importance of starting from Why

Visualizing the consequences of sugary drinks

Can_soda There is evidence* that a diet which includes loads of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) can lead to serious health issues over the long term such as Metabolic Syndrome and its myriad complications, including Obesity. The consumption of HFCS has increased substantially over the past 30 years, as has the obesity rate in the US (and some other developed countries). In the popular media, documentary films like Food, Inc. and TV shows in the UK and US by Jamie Oliver have talked about the ubiquity of sugar in our diets and the consequences associated with this reality. At the end of last year, the New York City Department of Health followed up its poster campaign encouraging people to reduce (or eliminate) sugary drinks by creating a 30-second Public Service Announcement with the same message as the posters. The posters received a lot of attention and generated some controversy as well. Some people found the posters -- which depict realistic human body fat flowing out of bottles into glasses filled with ice cubes -- too gross and too disturbing to hang in public. The PSA video kicked it up a notch and truly got people to take notice.

Exercise: Visualizing your message to create a change

Recently, I have shown this video below to students and trainees. At first I ask them to sketch some slides on paper that incorporate this sentence: "Drinking one can of soda a day can make you 10 pounds fatter in a year." I asked them to think of ways they can make that message more visual and memorable. People come up with ideas including sketches of a year's supply of sugar on a table from just the 365 cans of soda, or 365 cans of empty soda cans and bottles around a single office cubicle, or sketches of bloated bellies and people with worried looks standing on scales, and so on. This activity gets people thinking of ways of combining visuals with type to amplify the impact of a message. After a brief discussion, I show them this PSA from the NYC Dept of Health. Watch the clip below or here on YouTube.

The PSA: Don't drink yourself fat

This 30-second video — which has no voice over — receives a lot of moans and groans from the audience. No one expected a visualization like that. Is it over the top? That's a matter of personal taste I suppose. It certainly gets people's attention and makes its point. Only time will tell if if makes any difference in New York and beyond. (For me personally, it already has had a profound effect.) On the New York City Department of Health's website you can learn more about the campaign. Here you can read a bit about the controversy. The video below (or on YouTube) touches on the public's reaction to the PSA.

The reactions
Watch a short AP story on people's reaction to the ad in New York City.

Thirty seconds is not a long time, yet a visualization like the one in the NYC Dept of Health's PSA is effective for getting attention and making a memorable point. The aim was not to provide detailed information in the actual spot, but rather to make a powerful visual impression that's visceral with the hope that we'll stop to rethink our habits and investigate further on their website and from other sources. In an actual presentation situation, we can also use high-impact visualizations so long as we provide context and the details of why and how, and when, etc. In an actual presentation we can take more time to illuminate further by way of examples and by introducing more evidence to backup our claims.

* Sugar: The bitter truth Watch this 90-minute presentation by Robert H. Lustig, MD, UCSF Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology as he explores the damage caused by sugary foods. He argues that too much fructose and too little fiber appear to be cornerstones of the obesity epidemic. Dr. Lustig is a good speaker. If his visuals were of a much higher quality this would have been a far better talk, however. Still, if you are very interested in this topic, you will find the presentation very interesting indeed.


Sam Greene

I saw a pro corn syrup commercial the other day - "You're in for a sweet surprise!".

The industry is fighting back.

Anke Tröder

thank you for going that way, garr.

at in Germany about a week ago, andrew vande moere from talked about persuasive visualizations.

in a workshop afterwards we agreed that that is one of the great opprtunities for good visualzations: changing peoples’ behaviour.

understanding the numbers we live by is empowerment.

Fred E. Miller

Thanks, Garr!

The goal of all communication: Visual, Written, or Spoken is the same. We want the recipient, as quickly as possible to 'Get It!'

They may not agree with everything we present.

They may not agree with anything we present.

But, unless they 'Get It!', there can't be a meaningful discussion going forward.

Your Post - I 'Get It!'


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