Mass media campaigns for physical activity

Evidence Rating  
Evidence rating: Insufficient Evidence

Strategies with this rating have limited research documenting effects. These strategies need further research, often with stronger designs, to confirm effects.

Health Factors  
Date last updated

Mass media campaigns can provide physical activity messages to large and broad audiences using television, social media, radio, billboards, and newspapers and other print media. These campaigns aim to increase knowledge, influence attitudes and beliefs, and change behavior1.

What could this strategy improve?

Expected Benefits

Our evidence rating is based on the likelihood of achieving these outcomes:

  • Increased physical activity

  • Improved physical fitness

Potential Benefits

Our evidence rating is not based on these outcomes, but these benefits may also be possible:

  • Improved weight status

What does the research say about effectiveness?

There is insufficient evidence to determine whether mass media campaigns promoting physical activity increase physical activity and improve physical fitness1, 2. Available evidence suggests that mass media campaigns may raise awareness and increase motivation to prevent weight gain3, 4. However, additional evidence is necessary to determine effects.

Most mass media campaigns for physical activity appear to provide equitable or better effects for those with low incomes compared to those with higher incomes, though results are inconsistent and tailoring is needed to ensure programs are most effective for those with low incomes5. Comprehensive obesity prevention campaigns that include both physical activity and nutrition components can influence knowledge and attitudes more than campaigns only addressing physical activity; although additional evidence is needed to confirm effects on behavior and long-term outcomes6. One comprehensive media documentary campaign, Weight of the Nation, appears to increase obesity awareness and may influence short-term healthy behavior intentions7.

Media campaigns can be implemented at relatively low cost8 and can be more effective when combined with behavioral interventions9. Experts suggest integrating campaigns to increase physical activity with broader obesity campaigns; pre-testing campaign materials; including a focus on social and environmental causes of obesity rather than personal behaviors; and using social media and other media outlets beyond television6. Tailoring can include culturally-adapted campaign materials, in the preferred or first language of the intended audience, and use of appropriate media channels10

Experts suggest that general media coverage of childhood obesity, such as parenting magazines, should also reframe the issue as an environmental problem requiring broad policy solutions, rather than focusing only on parental actions11.

How could this strategy impact health disparities? This strategy is rated no impact on disparities likely.
Implementation Examples

North Carolina’s 12 and California’s 13 are examples of state-sponsored mass media interventions to promote obesity prevention. The 14 campaign produced by HBO and the Institute of Medicine (IOM) is an example of a privately supported campaign. This campaign includes a four-part documentary series and a web-based tool.

Mass in Motion (MiM) is a statewide comprehensive obesity prevention intervention that includes several components, including a mass media campaign. Components have also included the Massachusetts’ Childhood Obesity Research Demonstration (CORD) Project and its media competition for elementary and middle school students to design art, videos, and music promoting program goals, such as increasing physical activity15, 16.

Implementation Resources

Rudd-Shehan 2018 - Trends in television food advertising to young people: 2017 update. UCONN Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity; 2018.

ESMM NC-Media - Eat Smart, Move More North Carolina (ESMM NC). Media and entertainment.

CI-WOTN - Community Initiatives (CI). The Weight of the Nation (WOTN).


* Journal subscription may be required for access.

1 CG-Physical activity - The Guide to Community Preventive Services (The Community Guide). Physical activity.

2 Cochrane-Baker 2015a - Baker P, Francis D, Soares J, Weightman A, Foster C. Community wide interventions for increasing physical activity (Review). Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2015;(1):CD008366.

3 Wammes 2012 - Wammes B, Oenema A, Brug J. The evaluation of a mass media campaign aimed at weight gain prevention among young Dutch adults. Obesity. 2007;15(11):2780–9.

4 AHA-Mozaffarian 2012 - Mozaffarian D, Afshin A, Benowitz NL, et al. Population approaches to improve diet, physical activity, and smoking habits: A scientific statement from the American Heart Association (AHA). Circulation. 2012;126(12):1514-1563.

5 Thomas 2018 - Thomas MM, Phongsavan P, McGill B, O’Hara BJ, Bauman AE. A review of the impact of physical activity mass media campaigns on low compared to high socioeconomic groups. Health Education Research. 2018;33(5):429-446.

6 Kite 2018 - Kite J, Grunseit A, Bohn-Goldbaum E, et al. A systematic search and review of adult-targeted overweight and obesity prevention mass media campaigns and their evaluation: 2000–2017. Journal of Health Communication. 2018;23(2):207-232.

7 Garney 2015 - Garney WR, Beaudoin CE, Clark HR, et al. Using community-based participatory research to disseminate a mass media campaign into rural communities. Journal of Health Communication. 2015;20(7):799-806.

8 George 2016 - George KS, Roberts CB, Beasley S, Fox M, Rashied-Henry K. Our health is in our hands: A social marketing campaign to combat obesity and diabetes. American Journal of Health Promotion. 2016;30(4):283-286.

9 Sharpe 2010 - Sharpe PA, Burroughs EL, Granner ML, et al. Impact of a community-based prevention marketing intervention to promote physical activity among middle-aged women. Health Education and Behavior. 2010;37(3):403-423.

10 Cochrane-Mosdol 2017 - Mosdøl A, Lida IB, Straumann Gyri H, Vist Gunn E. Targeted mass media interventions promoting healthy behaviours to reduce risk of non-communicable diseases in adult, ethnic minorities. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2017;(2).

11 Kalin 2013 - Kalin SR, Fung TT. Comparison of child obesity prevention and control content in mainstream and Spanish-language U.S. parenting magazines. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2013;113(1):133-140.

12 ESMM NC - Eat Smart, Move More North Carolina (ESMM NC).

13 Project Lean - California Project Lean. Leaders encouraging activity and nutrition.

14 Weight of the Nation - National Institutes of Health. NIH and the Weight of the Nation.

15 Criss 2016 - Criss S, Cheung L, Giles C, et al. Media competition implementation for the Massachusetts Childhood Obesity Research Demonstration Study (MA-CORD): Adoption and reach. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2016;13(4):403.

16 MA HHS-Mass in motion - Massachusetts Health and Human Services (MA HHS). Mass in motion.