Effects of a Mass Media Campaign to Increase Physical Activity Among Children: Year-1 results of the VERB campaign
Objective. To determine the effects of a mass media campaign on the levels of physical activity among children 9 to 13 years of age.
Design. A prospective, longitudinal, quasi-experimental design was used. A baseline survey was conducted in April to June 2002, before the launch of VERB advertising. Random-digit-dialing methods were used to survey a nationally representative sample of children and parents. The follow-up survey was repeated with the same cohort of children and parents in April to June 2003. Propensity scoring was used to determine the campaign’s effects on awareness and physical activity behaviors.
Setting. United States.
Participants. A total of 3120 parent-child dyads.
Intervention. The VERB campaign is a multiethnic campaign that combines paid advertisements with school and community promotions and Internet activities to encourage children 9 to 13 years of age to be physically active every day. Launched in 2002 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, VERB uses commercial marketing methods to advertise being physically active as cool, fun, and a chance to have a good time with friends. Using the VERB brand, paid advertising ran nationally from June 2002 through June 2003, targeting 9- to 13-year-old youths.
Main Outcome Measures. Children’s awareness of the campaign and self-reported estimates of free-time and organized physical activity sessions during nonschool hours in the week before the interview.
Results. After 1 year, 74% of children surveyed were aware of the VERB campaign. Levels of reported sessions of free-time physical activity increased for subgroups of children 9 to 13 years of age. A pattern of effects across 2 measures was observed for younger children (9–10 years of age), girls, children whose parents had less than a high school education, children from urban areas that were densely populated, and children who were low active at baseline. These subgroups engaged in more median weekly sessions of free-time physical activity than did children who were unaware of VERB and, as the children’s level of VERB awareness was incrementally higher, the children engaged in incrementally more free-time physical activity sessions. The average 9- to 10-year-old youth engaged in 34% more free-time physical activity sessions per week than did 9- to 10-year-old youths who were unaware of the campaign. A pattern of effects for organized activity was found only for children classified as low active at baseline.
Conclusions. The VERB campaign achieved high levels of awareness in 1 year. Higher levels of physical activity were reported for subgroups of US children. Promoting physical activity with child-focused commercial advertising shows promise.