As far back as American President Kennedy, government encouragement of individual fitness has been an important part of the many messages received through the popular media.
In 1973 a Canadian not-for-profit private company called Participaction ran TV messages, similar in style to commercial ads, urging viewers to get physically fit.
One segment claimed the average 30-year-old Canadian was in similar physical condition to the average 60-year-old Swede.
The ad had significant impact across Canada, while years later it was said
This was pure fiction. No one had any real evidence for this assertion other than international fitness comparisons that put the Swedish population well ahead of Canada and everyone else.¹
TV viewers in Canada now watch newer ads, like Body Break (1989-), which advocate an active lifestyle.
So what’s the big deal, who cares?
Well, postmoderns like Michel Foucault and other sociologists say that discourses about the body often hide behind their innocuous exterior a marked political agenda, that being the legitimization of power relations that claim to “scientifically” improve the social body.
From this perspective, scientific and medical discourses focusing on personal health deflect public attention from serious environmental problems, such as toxic waste.
The same has been said about discourse concerning crime and mental illness. The emphasis on personal solutions arguably eclipses the need to fix greater social problems.
This (not so) subtle blame game is especially apparent in discourses about minority groups and the poor. “Decadent rap music” and “drugs,” for example, are often singled out as factors contributing to mental illness and higher crime rates among youths in visible minority groups.²
A New Testament view of athleticism, one often completely ignored by Christians, presents another perspective that challenges contemporary norms:
For bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come (1 Timothy 4:8).
¹ The original link for this is now dead <“Bring Back the 60-year old Swede!” http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0LVZ/is_11_19/ai_n6130161:// > , and ParticipACTION writes the story as if it were true http://scaa.sk.ca/gallery/participaction/english/motivate/swede.html
² Often overlooked here is the systemic racism and stressors encountered by have-nots living in societies marked by sharp economic disparity. Also ignored is the related possibility that corruption and the abuse of legitimate power can contribute to some individuals going utterly mad, developing their own “law of the jungle” sense of values, and entering into a life of crime.