52 Chances: A Fresh Shot at Health Every Monday

By Phoebe Connelly

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.