Accounting for sitting and moving: an analysis of sedentary behaviour in mass media campaigns

BACKGROUND: Mass media campaigns are an important tool for promoting health-related physical activity. The relevance of sedentary behaviour to public health has propelled it to feature prominently in health campaigns across the world. This study explored the use of messages regarding sedentary behaviour in health campaigns within the context of current debates surrounding the association between sedentary behaviour and health, and messaging strategies to promote moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA). METHODS: A web-based search of major campaigns in the UK, US, Canada and Australia was performed to identify the main campaign from each country. A directed content analysis was then conducted to analyse the inclusion of messages regarding sedentary behaviour in health campaigns and to elucidate key themes. Important areas for future research were illustrated. RESULTS: Four key themes from the campaigns emerged: clinging to sedentary behaviour guidelines, advocating reducing sedentary behaviour as a first step on the activity continuum and the importance of light activity, confusing the promotion of MVPA and the demonization of sedentary behaviour. CONCLUSIONS: Strategies for managing sedentary behaviour as an additional complicating factor in health promotion are urgently required. Lessons learned from previous health communication campaigns should stimulate research to inform future messaging strategies.