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52 Chances

John Hersey

52 Chances: A Fresh Shot at Health Every Monday

The Monday Campaigns—dedicated to “the day all health breaks loose”—started with one great idea and are changing how people eat, exercise and make decisions about a host of other health-related behaviors.

Humble Beginnings

It all started with Meatless Mondays—the brainchild of former ad executive Sid Lerner, who in 2003 decided he wanted to do something about rising meat consumption. He remembered “meatless Mondays” from a World War II rationing campaign during his childhood and decided it was a catchy way to get Americans to give up meat—the source of most of the saturated fat in our diet.

In 2005, Lerner partnered with the Bloomberg School and Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health to start a nonprofit to persuade Americans to adopt healthy behaviors on the first day of the week. And so Healthy Mondays were born. The Johns Hopkins Healthy Monday Project provides scientific and technical assistance to the national Monday Campaigns.

The Data to Back It Up

The wisdom of homing in on Monday was confirmed by a literature review in 2010. Researchers Jillian Fry, MPH, and Roni Neff, PhD ’06, MS, at the Bloomberg School’s Center for a Livable Future (CLF), looked at the effectiveness of periodic public health messaging prompts and the cultural significance of Mondays. A literature review of 19 studies, with a combined sample size of 15,655 participants, found that frequent, periodic messages are an effective way to get adults to adopt healthy behaviors.

A survey by a research firm also found that more than half of 1,500 surveyed adults over the age of 25 viewed Monday as “a day to get their act together.” It was the day most would start a diet or exercise regime. As Lerner has said, Monday is the “January of every week.”

Reinventing Monday

That Monday comes 52 times a year means the campaign has multiple chances to appeal to our better natures. The Johns Hopkins Healthy Monday Project has partnered with everyone from health insurance companies, like Wellpoint/Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield in Virginia, to the food giant Sodexo to create wellness plans and promote lifestyle changes. “It’s about changing people’s default self-image,” says Ralph Loglisci, project director for the Healthy Monday Project at CLF. “The Monday concept works perfectly for that. If you say, ‘I am someone who is healthy, it’s just that every once in a while I fall off the wagon,’ you can always hit restart on Monday.”

A survey by the Meatless Monday campaign in 2010 found that 30 percent of all Americans were aware of the campaign—more than double the number from two years previously. “Meatless Monday has just exploded,” says Loglisci.

The national Monday Campaigns promote seven Monday projects, including Man Up Monday, which encourages STD testing, and Quit and Stay Quit Monday, which targets smokers.

Getting the Oprah Shout-Out

Healthy Mondays got the coveted Oprah nod in February. The media mogul hosted a show about forgoing meat, at one point cheering to the camera, “Go Meatless Monday, Meatless Monday!” Loglisci says it was the most exciting pickup the project has gotten so far.

“The nontraditional approaches to push the message have included an appealing website, contests for meatless chili recipes, clever and humorous signage, and recruiting prominent health professionals, celebrity chefs and others,” says Robert Lawrence, MD, CLF’s director. Such pop culture venues offer exposure for health messages that traditional public health channels cannot match.

What’s Next

The Johns Hopkins Healthy Monday Project has partnered with Baltimore City Schools and its Education Channel 77 to launch the next Monday program: Kids Cook Mondays. It encourages children to take charge of food preparation and their own health. The Baltimore pilot program—including television spots with local kids—began in March.

Couch Potato Perils

  • One in three United States adults is obese.
  • More than one-third of all adults in the U.S. do not get the recommended amount of aerobic physical exercise.
  • In 2007, less than 25 percent of all adults reported eating five or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
  • Americans today consume 7 pounds more red meat per person each year than in the 1950s.
  • Dietary factors account for at least 30 percent of all cancers in Western countries and up to 20 percent in developing countries.

Sources: USDA, CDC, The Cancer Project


This forum is closed
  • Dr. Vinod Nikhra

    Dellhi, India 05/12/2011 11:58:31 AM

    The article talks about good health things. Making people health-conscious is one simple thing, making them stick to a healthy life-style may be altogether a different issue. Alas, a difficult one as well.

  • cheryl

    USA 05/12/2011 09:55:59 PM

    More government control? Meatless Monday? Then they will tell us what to eat on Tuesday. Maybe Tofu Tuesday, White Meat Wednesday, etc. etc. I almost thought about it for a minute until you mentioned Oprah endorsing it. If Oprah endorses it, the Obama's encouraged her to and that is the government. Oprah and the Obama's can be as liberal with what they eat as they want to be. Money is no object. Chefs, delivered groceries, waiters, etc. The rest of us normal people will eat what we want when we want. If you think certain groups of people need to be told what to eat because they refuse to take any responsibility for theirselves, then preach to those who need it and stop trying to dummy down all of us. We have been able to figure out what to eat for years and we don't need the government telling us what to eat. Let's get back to being America. People making their own choices and taking responsibility for our actions and suffering the consequences if we don't. That is our right. Some people are just too stupid to get out of their way.

  • Bryan S.

    Deployed SE Asia 05/17/2011 10:31:21 AM

    I am a little surprised at the idea of public campaigns for exercise and better diet. Yes, there are missteps in calling out the obese as I suspect that they do not truly choose to want to be unhealthy. The fact that we have a choice of what we want to eat, and I am not a conspiracy theorist, is affected in what is available to us as choices, what foods are designed to taste good (look for monosodium Glutamate (MSG) as an example). Foods designed to make us want to eat more. Meatless Monday is only a tiny suggestion in a more broad need to better our collective diet. To cheryl's comment, I personally do not care if you eat meat, I just believe that the promotion of a diet that is not based on a 'meat at every meal' approach is an attempt at getting you to eat healthier. I am also not worried about the lifestyle of rich and famous people, but they are entitled to their opinions and seem to benefit from the platform of public celebrity in getting their ideas across, be they good or not. Food, Religion, Politics, and the American obsession with the automobile (and to a lesser extent firearms) are sensitive topics for a great many people. I believe that we should stop fearing other's views and opinions, stop fearing 'the other' and find things to agree upon instead of always seeking a way to lash out at those that are different. Perhaps the perfect government is a society of healthy and tolerant people that all decide for themselves to live within the law. . . Meatless Monday is not the law, it is a suggestion like, "So in everything, do unto others as you would have done unto you..."

  • sunforester

    left coast 08/16/2011 01:38:49 PM

    The best thing we as a country can do to lose weight is to turn off our television. Everyone on the television helps their advertisers promote our eating terribly, from Sanjay Gupta's incessant promotion of the obesity-promoting Atkins Diet to Oprah's shameful abandonment of fat-free foods in favor of her advertisers' fat-laden garbage.

    Johns Hopkins has bought completely into totalitarian, socialist approach of formulating national health policy, from its unqualified support of Obamacare to this perversion of basic education that whipsaws children between what they see and hear all the time on TV against their so-called scholars' latest unproven theories about food.

    Eating sugar and fat constantly makes you fat. Sitting in front of the television without exercising makes you unhealthy and fat. No meatless Mondays or 'pop culture' trivialities are going to fundamentally address the deliberately unhealthy messages that are broadcast to all of us thousands of times per day.

    No self-preparation class is going to suddenly help a fourth-grader eat better - not with the TV blasting pizza and burgers into her eyes 24/7. No class is going to help that girl exercise when the television intentionally and falsely scares her parents into believing that there is a child molester on every street corner, so she has to stay safely inside on her Xbox, eating from boredom and getting rounder by the day.

    These grade-school food prep fads may score some grant money for Hopkins PhDs looking for notoriety, but they are completely useless in dealing with the fundamental pathways that are promoting obesity in our country that the PhDs are deliberately ignoring. Hopkins needs to abandon its pretense at reengineering American society using the liberals' obsession with central planning, and turn directly against those interests that sacrifice our health for the sake of profit. I'm talking to YOU, Sanjay Gupta!

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