BMI Awareness Week: Know Your Number
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BMI Awareness Week: Know Your Number

To support Roche’s prescription weight loss drug Xenical, Edelman created the first comprehensive national BMI awareness campaign. BMI Awareness Week would become the definitive period for the U.S. to take a fresh, serious look at obesity and the health r

Paul Holmes

Nearly 100 million Americans are either overweight or obese.  Obesity is associated with serious diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure, and is the second leading cause of preventable death after smoking in the U.S.  Most Americans, however, were not aware that BMI, or body mass index, is the best indicator for weight-related health risks.  BMI is a number that takes into account a patient’s height and weight, and is universally recognized by organizations such as the National Institutes of Health and the World Health Organization as the standard for determining obesity.

To support Roche’s prescription weight loss drug Xenical, Edelman created the first comprehensive national BMI awareness campaign: BMI Awareness Week: Know Your Number!  BMI Awareness Week would become the definitive period for the U.S. to take a fresh, serious look at obesity and the health risks associated with an elevated BMI.    

Our primary challenge was to bring together the medical community and implore them to treat obesity as a disease.  By promoting the “medicalization” of obesity and compelling physicians to check patients’ BMIs, physicians can better treat obesity and the life-threatening conditions associated with it.  Once the need to treat obesity is established, physicians can prescribe Xenical as part of an effective, long-term weight loss treatment regimen.

And finally, Xenical is explicitly indicated for obese adults with a BMI of 30, or a BMI of 27 in the presence of other risk factors, so as the campaign would establish BMI as the most important number Americans can use to define excess weight, it also would establish Xenical as a safe, effective FDA-approved weight loss medication.


Research into the prevalence and consequences of obesity revealed some alarming facts:

  • Overweight people are twice as likely to develop diabetes as people who are not overweight 
  • Nearly 70 percent of cases of cardiovascular disease are related to being overweight 
  • A person who is 40 percent overweight is twice as likely to die prematurely than an average-weight person

BMI is the most important tool to assess excess weight.  A BMI greater than 25 indicates an individual is overweight, and a BMI greater than 30 indicates an individual is obese; both levels indicate increasing risk of developing serious health complications.  For example, a 5-foot-5-inch woman weighing 160 pounds has a BMI of 27, and is 15.8 times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes and 2.8 times more likely to develop high blood pressure.  

However, our research showed that most consumers did not know what BMI means, did not know their own BMIs, and were unaware of the impact an elevated BMI could have on their health.  Physicians we communicated with spoke of an obesity epidemic in the U.S., and remarked that the prevalence of overweight has never been higher among their patients.  Consumers and physicians agreed, however, that not enough doctors spoke to their patients about weight loss and the health risks of being overweight or obese.   

BMI is one way to draw much-needed attention to the risks of obesity.  By alerting people to the risks associated with an elevated BMI, we expected the facts about obesity to resonate more clearly with consumers.  For us to achieve our objectives, it was important for consumers to understand that even modest weight loss, as little as five to 10 percent, can result in clinically significant improvements in the risk of weight-related health conditions.  In addition, people who already have weight-related health problems can improve them with a relatively small five to 10 percent weight loss.

From our research we developed four main objectives.  First we needed to create awareness for obesity as a major public health issue and alert the public about the serious health risks associated with an elevated BMI, including heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.  Second, we wanted to establish BMI as a “vital sign” and call on consumers to know their BMIs.  Our third objective was to drive overweight consumers to their physicians to talk about obesity and treatment with Xenical.  And finally, we sought to generate media coverage for BMI Awareness Week and awareness of Xenical as an effective weight-loss solution.


Our main strategy was to create a national awareness week in which BMI (and obesity) would be the focal point for community-related initiatives and media outreach efforts.  We would generate national and local media coverage through television, radio, print and online outlets to help raise awareness of BMI, drive consumers to BMI screenings across the country, and establish Xenical as a safe and effective option for weight loss.  

Another important strategy was to identify third-party and professional organizations to assist in screenings, review consumer education materials, and lend credibility to the campaign.  Third parties would help us establish obesity as a major public health issue and BMI as a “vital sign.”  They also would enhance our appeal to media outlets, which often look at third-party sponsorship to determine the validity of a health awareness campaign.  After discussing options with several organizations, we partnered with the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) and the North American Association for the Study of Obesity (NAASO).  These groups co-sponsored BMI Awareness Week, and lent their credibility and expertise to the campaign and our materials.  Two additional organizations, the Visiting Nurse Association of America (VNAA) and the Visiting Nurse Service of New York (VNSNY), were enlisted to conduct BMI screenings in highly visible public venues across the country.  Their skilled nurses identified appropriate locations for screenings in their respective markets and rallied the local communities to take part and get screened.

A third strategy was to use a celebrity spokesperson and spokesdoctor to communicate the importance of knowing BMI, health risks associated with an elevated BMI, and the availability of Xenical as a safe and effective treatment.  We targeted celebrities who were either slightly to moderately overweight or had a history of obesity in their families, and were enthusiastic about talking to the media and consumers about obesity and Xenical.  Furthermore, we focused our attention on female celebrities because campaigns such as ours, and weight-loss stories in general, tend to resonate more with women in the U.S. than with men.  Our spokesdoctor needed to be a reputable physician and a proponent of Xenical willing to discuss obesity as a disease and the importance of knowing one’s BMI.  We secured celebrity spokesperson Joy Behar, anchorwoman for ABC’s national television program, The View, and spokesdoctor James Rippe, M.D., Professor of Medicine (Cardiology) at Tufts University School of Medicine.

Our final strategy was to make our BMI Awareness Week Web site,, the national center of the campaign by encouraging consumers across the country, especially those without access to screening locations, to measure their BMIs online.  We redesigned Roche’s existing unbranded Web site,, to support BMI Awareness Week, and added a campaign-specific URL to it,  Our plan called for the Web site to include general BMI information, chat rooms, pressrooms and a BMI calculator.  The Web site made the campaign a truly national initiative because it allowed consumers unable to attend a screening in person to calculate their BMIs and learn more about the problems associated with excess weight.


Media Outreach/Publicity: distributed national and local press material; produced b-roll, ANR and PSAs to air before and during BMI Awareness Week; held national media interviews and satellite media tour with Ms. Behar and Dr. Rippe; conducted local market newspaper, television and radio interviews with local Xenical spokedoctors

Developed and conducted national survey of consumers and physicians to establish need for BMI screenings, and to inspire news media to cover BMI Awareness Week; the survey was cited by most news outlets that covered the campaign

Screened consumers in 16 cities to raise consumer awareness of BMI: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

Screened employees from several major companies for BMI as part of our “Corporate Challenge” to bring obesity education to an important new venue, the workplace

Developed collateral materials to give campaign longevity, including brochures, t-shirts and pins; more than 5,000 brochures were distributed, and every consumer screened received a t-shirt and pin

Refashioned Roche’s unbranded Web site,, into the online center of the campaign by creating an additional URL more appropriate for the week (; seeding message boards for pre-publicity; developing BMI Awareness Week virtual pressroom for journalists; developing screening venue spotlighting Xenical, obesity and BMI Awareness Week; promoting Web site through spokespeople interviews

Conducted kick-off event at Grand Central Terminal in New York to generate buzz for BMI Awareness Week; the event featured celebrity spokesperson Joy Behar, spokesdoctor Dr. James Rippe, New York Giants running back Tiki Barber, New York Jets lineman Randy Thomas, New York Liberty center Kym Hampton, and New York City firemen and paramedics

Our spokespeople effectively delivered our messages during interviews with both national and local outlets.  They made it clear that obesity is a serious disease; that Xenical is a safe and effective long-term treatment for obesity; that it is essential to know one’s BMI and understand the health risks associated with obesity; and that now is the time to speak to a physician about obesity and how Xenical can help treat it.  Media outreach during the campaign generated more than 85 million media impressions, including national coverage in USA Today, and on CBS’s The Early Show, ABC’s The View, Fox News Channel’s Fox and Friends, Lifetime’s Lifetime Live, MSNBC’s Home Page, Westwood One Radio, Talk America Radio, Associated Press Photo, and, as well as local coverage in more than 50 markets.  Nearly 7,000 consumers were screened across the country, 20 percent of whom asked for additional information about Xenical.  We distributed material and screened employees from several companies nationwide as part of our “Corporate Challenge,” including 1,100 employees from Gillette.  More than 86,000 site users were recorded at during the week, a 615 percent increase over the previous week.  Finally, 65,000 consumers were screened online, with 10,000 people filling out a “Talk to Your Doctor” questionnaire to help them ask about prescription medications.  

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