Let’s Move!, the campaign to end childhood obesity in the United States led by First Lady Michelle Obama, was announced in early 2010. One year later, Israel founded a similar program following the success of its American parallel, aimed to promote a more active and healthy way of life amongst its citizens. That’s how Efsharibari (a game of words in Hebrew for how it is possible to live a healthy life) came to be. It is a joint program of the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Culture and Sport, and the Ministry of Education, and is now starting to bring change to our day to day life here in Israel.
Rommey Hassman, the Director of Strategy for Israel’s national program for active and healthy living, told Israelife about the beginning of the program that, hopefully, will soon start to have an impact on our ways of living.
How did Efsharibari come to be?
“At the end of 2011, the Israeli government became more aware of the overweight problem in Israel. It became clear that people are spending most of the daytime sitting down, that they are doing less exercise, and they are eating more and more junk food than ever before .These were recognized as serious problems, and so the government decided to start a program aimed at tackling this situation from becoming a full blown epidemic. They wanted the program to diminish illness by reducing obesity, and to do this by encouraging people to eat healthier food and do more exercise.”
And how does Efsharibari get people to do all that? Changing ways of life is not a simple task…
“The idea behind this program is to work on two levels: the first one is through the government. It can place the foundations for a national change of lifestyle through regulations and legislations. The government decides what school cafeterias will serve, for example. If the government determines that catering companies will serve only healthy food, than municipalities and schools would to follow the new rules. If not, they will continue serving cheaper, more industrial, more processed, less healthy food. The government can also decide whether schools can place vending machines on their property and which products could be sold to the kids via these machines.
The government also controls the infrastructure budget. It can invest more in bicycle trails, running and jogging tracks and sports facilities. It can encourage exercise at work places by providing tax reduction, for instance.
The government can also set regulations that will instruct food companies to present the list of ingredients (fat, calories, sugar & salt) of products on the front of packages. It can provide information that is more accessible by instructing the food industry, because on its own, this industry’s main goal is profit, not health. They want to make money, even if it is on the consumer’s healthy behalf.
It is quite similar to what the movement against smoking did in the US during the 1950’s, when there were commercials with doctors recommending that smoking is good for your health. We are today at the same place regarding unhealthy eating habits. We are addicted to sugar, to salt. When we open a snack or a candy bar it is very hard for us to stop.
The second level is the public awareness to the issues and the outcomes of the current situation. The idea is to raise awareness so that the people can make smart choices when entering the supermarket. We also try to encourage people to do more exercise, by showing them that physical activity could also be done outside of a gym, during day-today activities: by getting off the bus one stop before the one we need, by taking the stairs instead of the elevator and so on. “
How do you see yourself in comparison to Let's Move! ?
“This program was an inspiration to us, and we used it as a role model for our strategy and program. We were inspired by its communication with the public, with the way it is organized, with its branding… We studied Let’s Move! thoroughly and we built our branding process and our communications processes accordingly. One of the main differences between us and them, though, is that we don’t have Michelle Obama as our inspiring leader, nor do we have Beyonce’ singing and dancing to promote our message…”
Other than not having Beyonce’ on our team, what kinds of difficulties do you experience while attempting to achieve this goal?
“First of all, Efsharibari is still in diapers and still experiences a certain amount of difficulties. It is a new program and we still have a long way to go. This is a process that might last at least 50 years or so, similar to long lasting activism campaigns against smoking, against drinking & driving, promoting condom use. It is clear that the food industry understands already that the time for change has come, that their party will soon come to an end and that they will need to come up with healthier food products.
Another difficulty is to get the public to actually change their lifestyles. Making such significant changes is not an easy task. It is not easy to make schools change their catering. It’s not easy to give people the motivation they need to step outside and do exercise. It is also not a simple task to get people to choose broccoli over French fries, but we will get there and make a change!”
What is the utopia for Efsharibari? What is your final goal?
"Efsharibari’s final goal is to cease from existing. The moment we will be able to do that, we will know that most of Israel’s population is running a healthy and active life. That means that most of the people will exercise according to the recommendations of our Ministry of Health, and that their daily menu is with less industrialized and processed food, less salt, less sugar…
It doesn’t have to be perfect, but we will settle on the common way of life in the United States and in Israel about 40 years ago. Back then, obesity was not as widespread as it is today. Nowadays, we are still pretty far from where the U.S stands regarding the obesity challenge. Overall, the Israeli menu on average is healthier than the American menu, especially when looking at our breakfast, which contains whole wheat brads, vegetables, low fat cottage cheese and eggs mostly. The problem is we are catching up with the American unhealthy diet due to the entry of the fast food industry to Israel a couple of decades ago.
Another thing is today’s technological developments that are drifting children away from playing outside with friends. What we are trying to do is to persuade people to do more exercise, even with the technological advancements in the world that we live in.”