To any resident of Philadelphia, it would come as no big surprise that the state of public health in the city isn’t exactly the best. The City of Brotherly Love has been ranked pretty poorly in recent years, as far as to be named both the poorest city in America and the fattest. This makes sense, considering this is a city known for its cheesesteaks and food vendor trucks. The city has also soundly rejected legislation that would attempt to improve public health, such as the soda tax, according to PhillyMag. According to the Philadelphia Public Health Department, the leading cause of premature death (after cancer) in Philadelphia is cardiovascular diseases that can be attributed to unhealthy habits and eating.
These problems, coupled with the difficulty many residents, particularly poor residents, have in accessing healthy food, all contribute to the health problems that Philadelphia is suffering from. This is especially a shame, considering Philadelphia is home to a vast array of health and fitness opportunities, from famous Fairmount Park to less well-known events, like free daily yoga at the Race Street Pier. The opportunities are present; there is just an issue getting people informed and motivated.
To that end, the Philadelphia Department of Public Health commissioned a campaign to get Philadelphians out and living active, healthy lives. On October 28, 2015, Mayor Nutter announced “Philly Powered,” a citywide fitness campaign sponsored by the Department of Public Health and featuring ads designed by Mighty Engine. The multimedia campaign’s primary goal is to promote the vast array of free or low-cost fitness options around the city. The Greater Philadelphia Area is home to 12,000 acres of parkland, 223 miles of trails for walking and hiking, and more than 100 recreation centers.
“Too many of our friends and neighbors are suffering from diseases that could have been avoided by eating healthier foods and exercising more,” Nutter said in a press release.
“Philly Powered” is slated to last for the next six months and features radio and television advertisements, signs, billboards, and other broad-reaching media formats. Their website is home to a number of local participants’ stories about getting active, and it also features a database of fitness opportunities for activities from bowling to dance fitness.
The focus of the campaign was not just to educate, but to inspire. “Our audience didn’t need to be convinced that fitness is a good idea,” Mighty Engine’s website proclaims. “They just needed inspiration and helpful ideas to get started.”
“It’s a way to make information available to people about the options throughout the city. It can be challenging for many people,” said Dr. James Buehler, Drexel adjunct and current Health Commissioner. “This initiative is important for the community. We can encourage and support each other to get fit and get active.”
One of the biggest focuses of the initiative is to show “real Philadelphians” getting active, not just unreasonable fitness goals or already-perfect bodies. “We’ve heard a lot of great, positive things about this campaign,” said Mighty Engine founder and CEO, Dr. Heseung Song. “The thing we love hearing the most, though, is when people talk about how real it seems, and how it captures an authentic Philadelphia feel.” Dr. Song feels that this is because of the focus the campaign places on real Philadelphians. “This is really targeted to lower-income folks,” she said. “We’re trying to make stars out of regular Philadelphians. All of the stars have grapples with health issues that other people are also facing.”
For inspiration for the campaign, they looked at what other cities have done in America and abroad. “The closest thing to what we wanted to do, we found, was called ‘This Girl Can,’ from England. We looked at that and thought ‘we want to do that, but better.'” Dr. Song explained. This Girl Can is a national UK-based campaign designed to be a celebration of “active women…who are doing their thing no matter how well they do it.”
A big focus other than real participants is on a diversity of people. A goal, according to Philly Powered project manager at The Mighty Engine, Simone Partridge, was really “diversifying the image of fitness.” One example was taking a look at fitness subcultures that already existed in the city, but didn’t get much attention. One example is the group “Latinas in Motion,” a Latina-centered fitness group founded by Elaine Gonzalez-Johnson. “Most of the women who showed up [to the Latinas in Motion meet] didn’t even know each other,” explained Partridge. “Elaine put out a call to the Latinas in the city, and people came. It was amazing to see totally different sizes and fitness levels.”
Future plans involve including even more real Philadelphians, including ones with disabilities. Currently, the campaign has 10″stars”, different Philadelphians getting fit in different ways.
Philly Powered is a component of “Get Healthy Philly,” a public health initiative started by the Division of Public Health, with partners such as the Parks and Recreation Department of Philadelphia, Healthy Minds Philly, and Indego. Indego is Philadelphia’s newest public transportation system, a series of 60 bike stations servicing more than 600 rental bikes. You can check out more about the project at their website, Phillypowered.org.