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Use TV Commercial Time (Idea)

Use television commercial time to encourage exercise and movement.

Photo of Burt A
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Who is the target audience for your idea and how does it inspire the end user to lead a healthier life?

My natural affinity is towards the poor and minorities. These are the groups traditionally most impacted by social and economic crisis. Yet here we face a problem that cuts across many natural divides. Each may be affected in different ways, and have different levels of resources, but all of us can benefit from increased exercise. These changes not only affect us individually, or as communities, but as a nation and even globally as greater resources are assigned to preventable ills.

The average hour of television time includes about 15 minutes of commercial time. Providing an overlay, similar to that used for emergency or breaking news, at the foot of the commercials could provide the opportunity for people to stand up and jump around. The American Council on Exercise has several articles and PDF's that mention taking advantage of commercial breaks to engage in fitness activity.

The overlay could feature items like a countdown of time left for commercial, icons suggesting different activities (i.e. stretch, jog in place, leg lift etc).

Studies would have to be done to see how this would impact advertising but I believe that this will also insure that those participating remain in front of the TV, instead of wandering away for a break. Additional motivation for advertisers could be provided with a small text i.e. "This exercise break provided by: name-of-advertiser. We care about your health."

It seems to me that if you can't get people away from the TV, then leveraging their existing activity makes sense. You could also tie it into social media (Twitter etc) or other forum where people can share their success - and provide the possibility for viral media (i.e. 'our family lost 50 pounds working out during commercials!'), which would make this a wonderful tool.

Here are two small references from the American Council on Exercise, but the site is full of research and suggestions based on the problems caused by sedentary lifestyles, with excessive television time being repeatedly cited as a major factor.

Small Steps to Increase Physical Activity

Couch Potatoes Arise! (pdf)

This study from the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that people view almost 3 hours of TV per day on average (the total may be up to 5 hours per day depending on age). 15 minutes of exercise, per one hour TV programming as suggested above, would result in 45 minutes per day, 16,400 minutes per year, or roughly 23 hours of extra exercise per month (or 38 hours per month for certain age groups). 

Worth reading:
Summary: benefit of 2-3 minute exercise 'snacks' (short routines)

"Can America’s Top Sedentary Activity be Made More Active?: Physical Activity and Leisure-time Study"

Note: This is a long, fact filled disertation I only skipped through. Lots of interesting tidbits.

Excerpts: "These findings suggest that TV commercial walking may be a strategy that assists in increasing physical activity and potentially affecting dietary intake, creating prevention of weight gain in sedentary adults...this study highlights that PA (physical activity) can be successfully incorporated into traditionally sedentary TV watching habits. Exercise performed in short bouts during commercial breaks can result in similar increases in PA as exercise performed in traditionally advocated longer bouts."

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Photo of An Old Friend

Hi, Burt! This is a very powerful idea! You've hit on a formidable (hidden) force. Have you considered a double pronged approach to simultaneously tackle unhealthy food marketing to children. For example, after the Institute of Medicine published its report "Food Marketing to Children and Youth: Threat or Opportunity," the Walt Disney Company and the Cartoon Network pledged to stop using their cartoon characters to advertise unhealthy food products to children.

Below is additional information, including specific recommendations relevant to your idea. You might also be interested in the New England Journal of Medicine article (how healthy messages get drowned out).

1. Specific recommendations for Advertising, Marketing, Entertainment Industry, and Media.

2. Full report (including information regarding Disney and Cartoon Network pledge).

3. New England Journal of Medicine article on food marketing and childhood obesity.

Photo of Burt A

Hi Amy. You're right of course. There are a lot of forces that contribute to the problems of obesity -and not only for children; but they certainly are often the most vulnerable (and also a perfect target for remedial action since they are forming life long habits).

My thought though, is that to get the ball rolling, a simple plan is best. I think what you propose could be done in parallel or as part of a multi-stage solution, with an initial fast launch of whatever solution has the best chance of being adopted by the maximum number of people and producing tangible benefits. Other stages can then be rolled out feeding on the momentum and positive feedback from the fast start, or they can be launched as parallel 'sister' initiatives perhaps?

Projects that get too complex, or attempt too much at the outset, have a harder time getting off the ground, being adopted and adjusting to unexpected changes and circumstances. Longer roll-outs in uncertain economic circumstances can also leave good programs foundering when funding dries up.

I think if we want to make real change you create a road map for the long game but start with a quick spearhead program that gets things rolling.

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