Use of Formative Research and Social
Marketing Principles in the Development of
an Adolescent Physical Activity Program
Brad L. Neiger, Ph.D., CHES,
Rosemary Thackeray, Ph.D, MPH,
Michael D. Barnes, Ph.D, CHES,
Susan B. Hill, Ph.D, CHES
Department of Health Science, College of Health and
Human Performance, Brigham Young University
Only 64% of US
adolescents in grades 9-12
participate in activities
that make them sweat and
breathe hard for at least
20 minutes on at least
three days per week
The purpose of this study is to describe
the value of formative research in
developing a social marketing-based
physical activity program for
A randomized telephone survey was conducted among
600 adolescents in Utah (51% females, 49% males; ages
12 to 18, mean = 14.8 years).
Questions were developed from national physical activity
surveys and from focus groups among the target
audience. Pilot testing among 50 adolescents resulted in
minor revisions to items and procedures.
Questions related to physical activity, product, price,
place, promotion (4 P’s), and other characteristics of
Respondents expressed a preference for a
variety of activities. Basketball was the most
commonly reported activity, followed by biking,
jogging, running, and swimming. Preferences
for activities in school included basketball,
football, and running or track. General, but not
school preferences, are closely linked to
“lifetime physical activity.”
Benefits to being physically active included having fun,
staying in shape, and being healthy.
Respondents indicated that joining a sports club (88%),
participating in intramurals or city recreation teams with
people their age (79%), and having more places to do
physical activity (76%), would be most helpful in
increasing physical activity.
The least preferred interventions were a book or
videotape, or advice from a doctor or school nurse.
Barriers to physical activity included long
distances to physical activity facilities, costs
associated with using the facility, a
perception that they were not the “jock” or
“sporting type,” not having enough time for
physical activity, and being out of shape.
Females were more likely to report using a pool
or walking trail while males were more likely to
use a basketball court, or football/soccer fields.
Respondents participated in physical activity
primarily at home (80%) and at school (82%).
52% of males and 51% of females reported
being currently enrolled in a physical education
70% of respondents participated in physical
activity with their friends.
Respondents indicated their most reliable
sources of information about physical activity
were friends and parents. The most
frequently reported channel of information
about physical activity was radio.
Physical activity projects were piloted at Provo
High School and the North Cache Middle School
(grades 8-9) in Bear River.
A physical activity resource directory was
distributed to students informing them of all
community resources including cost, location,
hours, and appropriate dates.
Twenty $500 mini-grants were distributed to
communities throughout Utah to promote physical
activity among adolescents. Many different activities
were developed through these grants, such as water
polo clubs, inner-city youth sports programs, youth
exercise and nutrition classes, and summer activity
Physical activity and nutrition were promoted through a
Gold Medal School project (related to the 2002 Winter
Games in Salt Lake City).
A digital marquee and bulletin board were
assembled at Provo High School to advertise
club activities and community events that
involved physical activity.
Funding was provided to each school to
purchase physical activity equipment to improve
A summer physical activity program was
developed in Bear River.
The results from formative research provided a clear
direction in the development of a social marketing
based, public health program to increase physical
activity among adolescents.
Survey results revealed a preference for lifetime
physical activities including non-competitive sports,
clubs for fun, and participation in intramural or city
recreation teams. This is supported by Healthy People
Interpersonal communication may be the most important
Messages about physical activity should include the benefit
of spending time with friends.
While survey respondents indicated that there were several
places to engage in physical activity in their communities,
few reported using those within the past week. This is
contrasted with adolescent opinion that more places to do
physical activity would help them be more active. The
implication is that the barriers to using community facilities
should be addressed (i.e., reducing costs). Furthermore,
awareness of opportunities for physical activity should be
Time is the most commonly reported
reason for adults not engaging in
physical activity. According to
survey results, this barrier also occurs in
adolescence. Therefore, messages
should include time management
strategies, including how to fit physical
activity in to a busy schedule.
Additionally, it may be necessary to
create a message that physical activity
should be a part of daily living.
The marketing mix is a core component of a
social marketing program.
Lefebvre, R. C., & Flora, J. A. (1988). Social
marketing and public health intervention. Health
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The acid test of a social marketing program is
the integration of the marketing mix.
Smith, W. A. (1997). Social marketing: beyond
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