Obesity: Not a #firstworldproblem anymore
Once considered the disease of the affluent, obesity and its attendant dysfunction is spreading across the world. The culprits? There is a lot of blame to go around (see this article from the NY Times Sunday Magazine: The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food. you’ll never touch a Cheetoh again!). But in addition to over-consumption of junk food and hormone-mimicking chemicals in the environment, there is one area that we can and should be making a difference, especially as those that will suffer most are our children. As former Olympian and head of the London Olympics, Sebastian Coe, said at a recent meeting hosted by Nike at its World Headquarters:
“We’ve engineered movement out of our society, and we thought it was good. Now, as we face a future where our children will have difficulty just walking up a flight of stairs, we have a duty to rethink our cities and our priorities.”
This is a problem from Beijing to New Dehli to Mexico City as well as in the developed countries.
Nike is leading an effort to get people moving again and is venturing into new territory with its DesignedtoMove initiative (D2M). As you would expect of a sportswear company, one of its two major pushes (or “asks”) is to be expected: Create early positive experiences for children, focusing on improving and expanding community and school programs that involve physical activity including sports. Many of the groups that they’ve reached out to are sports related, including the American College of Sports Medicine and Bola Pra Frente of Brazil. The first iteration is Nike’s funding of Let’s Move Schools, putting $50M over 5 years into this effort led by US First Lady, Michelle Obama.
Where Nike is stretching itself, and struggling to do so, is in its second ask: Integrate Physical Activity into Everyday Life. Citing programs like Ciclovia and Portland, Oregon’s promotion of cycling, D2M calls for re-designing cities so that walking and cycling are safe, convenient and ordinary. So, what does a sportswear company/industry know about urban re-design? Not much, it turns out.
Compared to its clear focus and well-developed message/agenda on sports, the D2M identifies the problem–sprawl, unsafe streets, too much traffic, etc–but falls short of solutions, possibly because most solutions aren’t technical but political. But imagine, if some of the biggest celebrities and brands would lean on mayors to build sidewalks! Could we have Michael Jordan appear before Congress demanding complete streets be prioritized in the next US transportation bill? (for really great leadership on health and urban design, check out the Media Policy Center, chaired by Dr. Richard Jackson)
To Nike’s credit, they are reaching out to those working on these issues: Architecture for Humanity (a long time partner of Nike’s Access to Sports program), America Walks (represented by Portland’s own, Scott Bricker), Ciclovias Recreativas out of Mexico, DF (represented by Awen Southern and myself, a proud Global Ambassador for Ciclovia), and Sustrans out of Great Britain.
Nike cites research that the diseases arising from obesity like diabetes and cardiovascular failure will result in the next generation living five years shorter lives–and they’ve dramatized this, as good marketers do, in a powerful video. I’ll stop here and let the kids tell it.