RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—The next time you come down with a case of the Mondays, consider that it could be the start of something meaningful—one of 52 chances you get every year to set a goal you can accomplish by the end of the week. That was the thinking behind the Healthy Monday public health initiative, founded in 2005 as a collaborative effort between the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. The goal of the initiative is to end preventable chronic diseases by designating Monday as the day to start and sustain healthy habits. The initiative's most successful campaign to date has been "Meatless Mondays," a day on which people eat no meat, both for individual health reasons and for environmental reasons (meat production is a leading contributor to global climate change). Meatless Mondays have made their way into corporate cafeterias across the country, including here at Rodale's headquarters, as well as school districts and restaurants run by the likes of Mario Batali and Wolfgang Puck.
Since then, the collaborators have launched other Monday campaigns, including Move It Monday, the Monday Mile, Monday 2000 (a day to stick to your recommended daily calorie intake), Quit and Stay Quit Monday (a day to stop smoking or manage your quitting efforts) and Man-Up Monday (a day meant to educate young men about getting checked for HIV and STDs). Monday Campaign founder and chairman Sid Lerner and president Peggy Neu sat down with Rodale.com to talk about their campaigns, why Mondays are so successful, and how easy it is to make every Monday healthy.
Rodale.com: How did the whole idea of "Healthy Mondays" come about?
Sid Lerner: In 2003, I was invited to speak at an environmental health conference, and at the time, it wasn't obesity and diabetes that were making headlines. The main headlines were cholesterol and saturated fat, and these were things that people could change. They weren't related to genetics and chromosomes. And around that time, the FDA and USDA had determined that Americans were eating 15 percent more meat in our diets than we need. After some quick basic math, I determined that 15 percent is three out of 21 meals a week. If we just knocked off one day a week without eating meat, we'd be within the healthy range. So I reached back to my Boy Scout days and remembered that during World War II, the president had Meatless Mondays to save more meat for the troops. If you just cut meat out of Mondays, you'd cut out the fat.
As a campaign, the idea just took off. Then we came up with Move It Monday (which is designed to get people to be active on Mondays) and the Monday Mile (devoting 30 minutes or so on Mondays to walk a mile). So what started off as a singular day for cutting out meat and cholesterol turned out to be a good nudge day for other behavioral changes. Just like religions take the Sabbath to refurbish people's faiths every week, there's an opportunity to get back on track with healthy behaviors.
Rodale.com: Why do you think these campaigns have been so popular?
Peggy Neu: It's just a simple, memorable idea. When people say "go meatless on Monday," it's a very small, specific step. Some of the problems we're facing today, like climate change and obesity, can be so overwhelming that people just don't know where to start. But saying something simple as "Cut out meat once a week" or "Have a healthy Monday to reset your health intentions" is a very easy, incremental way to stay on track.