The Distribution Of Health And Wellness Information Through New Media
Today most of the sports and physical activity we engage in serve only for entertainment, recreation or to improve our health. In ancient cultures physical activity that we might consider exercise was only used for survival. This included hunting, gathering and eventually the manual labor involved in agriculture. Ancient cultures further developed physical skills and knowledge of health for other purposes such as development of military and religious devotion. Today we have information available to us to become better athletes or to become healthier for a longer and happier life. The ways in which this information is available has changed over time and continues to change as new technology is created and used by more people.
When looking further back in history at the origins of the human desire to better their own health and wellness, ancient Greek culture may include the foundations of the knowledge we have today. As with many types of technology for both western and middle eastern civilizations, concern for physical fitness, was developed due to a need to keep their militaries strong. (4) However the Greeks were also known to highly value the beauty and condition of a healthy and athletic body. They also had interest in physical activity to become physically fit rather than simply as a means to gather food and resources as it was for prehistoric cultures. The earliest display of fitness may be traced back to 776 BC with the Olympic games in ancient Greece which was closely linked to religion and devotion to the gods. (6)
As far as the distribution of this information there have been many texts written by the ancient Greeks on topics such as medicine and health which were later studied by scholars after their discovery in the 14th and 15th century. (5) For many years the study of such ancient texts is studied by scholars and those who are interested in early medicine. With the invention of the printing press came the production of books, newspapers and eventually magazines. Magazines became one of the first modern tools in distributing information for those interested in physical activity and nutrition for health and wellness.
Magazines do not gain popularity in North America until around 1741 though they are not immediately successful. (7) It isn’t until the 1800s that magazines gain more popularity with publications such as Saturday Evening Post first published in 1821 and National Geographic in 1899. (8) One of the earliest general interest magazines, Reader’s Digest, contained information about health related topics. It was created by DeWitt Wallace and first published in 1922. (9) It soon became available internationally and translated into many different languages. While the purpose of the publication was to provide articles on many useful and interested topics this may have been one of the first uses of media to so widely distribute health and wellness information. At this point in time, one health related article could be read by people all over the world.
While articles based on scientific studies and personal experiences may be one way to learn about health related information, governments also provide information and regulations concerning nutrition. Today most consumers know what to expect in the basic information contained on the back of a food label on every packaging item in their pantry or refrigerator. One would expect to be able to find the amount of calories, a list of ingredients and other basic information that would help to make a choice when purchasing a food item. Those with food allergies can check for ingredients that might make them ill while others can choose a food item that best suits their dietary needs. In the U.S. the Food and Drug Administration is responsible for setting forth the regulations for the food labels and the requirements which have evolved over time.
The FDA describes itself as “…A scientific, regulatory, and public health agency that oversees items accounting for 25 cents of every dollar spent by consumers. Its jurisdiction encompasses most food products (other than meat and poultry), human and animal drugs, therapeutic agents of biological origin, medical devices, radiation-emitting products for consumer, medical, and occupational use, cosmetics, and animal feed. “ (1) The FDA as it is known today began in 1906, when President Roosevelt signed the Wiley Act, in an effort begun in the late 1800s to regulate food and drugs in the US. (2) Through the decades the FDA continues to evolve and establish new rules for the food industry as they become more responsible for making sure that food and drugs on the market are safe for consumers. It isn’t until 1990 that the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA) is passed which would be the beginning for the food labels we are familiar with today. (3)
Another medium that has been used to spread information about health and medicine is television. Beginning in the 1830s many developments were made with electronic communication, Many people are credited in the late 1800s and early 1900s with inventions and discoveries that eventually lead to the creation of television as we know it today. By the 1930s several television programs are being broadcast from London and the US. (10) The very beginning of such a wide public interest in athletics and fitness may have begun with the first televised sporting event with the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. (11) Today the Olympics, both winter and summer, are some of the highest rated programs to air all over the world. The 2012 summer Olympics pulled in over 31 million viewers in the US. (12)
The successful broadcast of athletic events also extends to the advertising. Major health and fitness related brands such as Nike, Adidas and many others spend millions of dollars using popular athletes to promote their brands with TV advertising. Documentaries, and entertainment news channels often interview athletes about their training and diet. Through watching these events and learning more about the athletes who perform in them, millions of people around the world can learn more about how to condition their bodies to become better athletes.
Eventually with the invention of the VCR videos became a popular way to exercise at home. In the 80s and 90s many “workout videos” became available and gained popularity. Aerobics, kickboxing, yoga and anything that can be done in front of a tv could be done through watching a video. The popularity of such videos has not slowed down even though video cassettes have faded out of existence. Only the medium which is used to watch these videos has changed from DVD to blue ray and more recently streaming video. With the ability to watch a video from a phone, computer or television instantly the fitness video industry has only grown larger. While certain paid for videos may have become popular with streaming video there is also an endless amount of free video content in the fitness genre. Some if created be amateurs however, much of it comes from legitimate companies who offer free content as a way to make money through advertising.
In recent years with the invention of the internet many magazines have moved farther away from print. There are now many magazines that exist only online and others that print but heavily rely on the internet for both content and advertising. It is now possible to read the same magazine in print, on a desktop or laptop, a tablet and a smart phone. The ability to so quickly access information makes it necessary for publications to more frequently update their content. Social media such as twitter and facebook are used by nearly every company, especially magazines, to keep their customers interested.
Today the way we receive information is constantly changing. It’s becoming easier and quicker to learn about any subject regardless of where you live or what language you speak. Television is giving way to streaming video and print magazines are yielding to websites and tablet applications. When it comes to health and fitness, people generally want information as soon as possible and tailored to their own needs. iPhone applications such as My fitness Pal, which can track your calories taken in and burned as well as macro and micro nutrients and suggestions based on you age, weight, height and body fat percentage, may eliminate a need for anyone to hire a personal trainer, nutritionist and may possibly reduce a person’s need for doctor visits. Any one today can easily put together a healthy diet and exercise plan to suit their needs by using applications or using websites for research.
I believe, as with most things that are marketed online, the future will allow us to have more applications and devices specifically designed for each of our personal needs. It is already possible to use a phone application to take your heart rate simply by placing your finger on the camera of your phone. Eventually I believe more health related technology could be used on handheld devices that people carry with them each day. Each technology that delivers information may seem to disappear but eventually it gives way to an improved version. Ancient texts studied by scholars became translated and mass produced. Newspapers and magazines delivered more content to larger audiences. Now even modern technology is becoming something better each day and provides us with new ways to educate ourselves and better our lives.