The rise of inactivity and its consequences
The prevalence of sedentary lifestyles is increasing in America and much of the developed world. In the US (our core geographic area of focus for this project) this trend coupled with poor eating choices has notably manifested itself in rising obesity rates across the country over the past two decades as depicted in Exhibit 1. As of 2008, over 68% of Americans were categorized as being overweight, with nearly half of that group being defined as obese or morbidly obesei. Between 1980 and 2002 overweight rates for children aged 6 11 more than doubled from 7% to 16%ii. Today that number is estimated to be closer to 20%iii.
Shortened life spans. More than 14% of deaths in the US in 2003 resulted from obesity related conditions; and
Diminished motivation to be active. Being overweight or obese makes physical activity more challenging, thus requiring greater commitment and effort to be active compared to a healthy weighted individual. The more overweight people become due to reduced levels of activity the less likely they are to engage in future activity. Furthermore, obesity is often tied to depression which causes individuals to experience lower levels of energy and motivationiv.
Teenagers the gateway to addressing rising inactivity levels
The number of years a consumer leads an active life;
The variety of sports or fitness related activities the consumer engages in over those years; and
The products that the two factors above drive demand for.
In order to optimize across all drivers we honed in on teenagers (primarily 13-15) as our focus segment. We view other groups, such as adults and, retirees, and so forth, who have a shorter customer lifetime value and being, as being more set in their ways, both in terms of habit and product affinities.
In arriving at this focal segment we have taken the following factors into consideration:
According to the Eight Stages of Development, adolescents learn about and define who they are between the ages of approximately 12 and 19. If being athletic, or at least active, is not established as central to ones identity, the probability of prioritizing athletic activity later in life is likely diminished. If more children define themselves as being active during this influential period, the market for healthy, sustainable athletes will likely increase over time.
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From a commercial perspective, the potential lifetime value of an active teenager is likely to be higher than that of an average U.S. adult. Firstly the cost of acquiring an active youth is lower, as there are fewer barriers to exercise/activity as outlined above. Secondly, the number of years that teenagers have to be active is significantly greater as they not only start younger but may potentially live longer due to their adoption of healthy and active lifestyles.
Teenagers generally have lower opportunity costs of activity and learning to exercise than adults. A combination of the greater amounts of leisure time available to them and their propensity to experiment with new things makes teenagers more likely to be comfortable learning about and engaging in activity. Teenagers also tend to have many opportunities to choose to engage in activities. These include physical education (PE) programs, sports teams, community teams, and informal pick-up games.
Section 2 of this report presents key underlying influences and trends that currently inhibit and have the potential to further diminish activity levels among teenagers.
Section 3 of this report then discusses the selection criteria that potential solutions must satisfy in order to most effectively address the problem of teen inactivity.
Finally Section 4 lays out a potential solution aimed at leveraging key influences to encourage more active lifestyles among teenagers.
Section 2: Factors underlying teenage inactivity
In order to address the rising levels of inactivity among teenagers, it is necessary to first identify and understand the primary network of influencers that ultimately impact their decision making behavior and involvement in activities.
Dual income & single parent households
Traditionally parents have been one of the strongest sources of influence over teenagers, and have played a crucial role in shaping their overall growth and development. However insights from interviews conducted with families in the Boston area suggest that shifts in the overall structure and composition of the average American family have decreased the amount of influence that parents exert over their children.
In particular, the steady increase in the number of dual income earners1 and the rise in the number of single parent households highlight that parents today are facing increasing time constraints. A significant consequence of this phenomenon is that teenagers are increasingly subject to less direct parental oversight, as working parents often outsource the supervision of their children to external parties such as baby-sitters, nannies and daycare centers. While parents have a vested interest in encouraging their children to lead active lives in order to promote overall health and well-being, external parties are more likely to encourage teenagers to engage in sedentary, home-based activities that are easier to supervise. Examples of such activities include watching TV, surfing the internet or playing video games.
Decline of parental role models
Another implication of parental time constraints is that parents have less face-to-face time with their children and consequently fewer opportunities to educate them on the merits of leading an active lifestyle and adopting healthy eating habits. Given these time constraints parents themselves are also less likely to demonstrate the very behaviors that they aim to instill in their children. Thus, an absence of role models that are leading active lives in the household could further explain why teenagers are tending towards more sedentary lifestyles.
Additionally, if parents spend less time prioritizing the on-going supervision and support of their childrens activity levels, teenagers may feel less motivated to participate in sports or other physical activities at school. For example our interviews with parents suggest that parental inability to attend games to cheer for their children or even provide the basic resources that support their childrens involvement in sports, such as providing rides to practice, may result in teenagers being less inclined or able to pursue active lifestyles.
Evolution of family dining
A further implication of parental time constraints is that working parents are increasingly relying on convenience and on-the-go food solutions for meal preparation. These habits can have a profound impact on the overall health and well-being of their children as evidenced by Child Development research which suggests there is a link between the number of years a working mother spends in the workforce and their childs BMI.v
The increase in child obesity has attracted a great deal of media attention which has, in turn, resulted in a heightened sense of awareness of health & wellness issues among parents. The observation that child obesity persists in the face of this awareness suggests that parents are precluded from developing solutions because they lack the necessary tools to motivate their children in the face of time constraints. This insight highlights an area of opportunity for Nike to provide tools to:
Assist parents in incentivizing their children to lead more active lives; and
Assist parents in motivating their children in a way that fits into their busy schedules.
Crime & parental attitudes
An emphasis on helicopter parenting2, which has gained popularity in recent times, combined with the persistent coverage of criminal activity in the media has resulted in a heightened sense of paranoia around crime levels and neighborhood safety among parents. The implications of helicopter parenting are straightforward. As parents become more concerned about the overall safety of their neighborhoods they are more likely to only allow outside activity with adult supervision. However, due to their personal time constraints, they often encourage their children to stay indoors or commute to school by car, rather than engage in outdoor activities or walk, for example. In this case, parents appear to be prioritizing the short term benefits of child safety over the long term risks of obesity and other future health problems due to reduced activity levels
Increasing prominence of friends as influencers
Siblings, particularly older ones, have traditionally been a powerful source of influence over teenagers. Younger siblings generally tend to emulate the behavior and habits of their older siblings, especially if there is a positive relationship between the two. However as the size of U.S. households continue to decline, the average teenager is growing up with fewer siblings to rely on and learn behaviors from. As a result of teenagers being exposed to fewer siblings and busier parents, peers and friend groups have gained more prominence in the influence and authority they have over teenagers lives.
In light of the factors discussed above, such as the limited amount of time parents spend with their children; external environments can serve as important influences on teenagers. Schools are not only a physical representation of where teenagers spend most of their time outside the home, but are also the arena within which their social networks converge.
Teacher attitudes & resource constraints
Given that teenagers are highly exposed to their social networks at school, their fear of failing at physical activities can often overshadow their desire to try something new or different to shine in front of their peers causing them to shy away from any activity. For example, a school that has a reputation for being a leader in a certain sport, say basketball, may place significantly more emphasis on winning than inclusion. In such environments, children have less room to fail, that is to say, not to be good at basketball. Such overtly competitive situations can lead to divisions (ball players vs. non ball players) which amplify less skilled students feelings of inadequacy.
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Teachers serve as de facto parents in the school environment. Their attitudes towards general wellness and encouraging teenagers can be powerful drivers of childrens sustained engagement in activities. However, the continuous budgetary pressures schools face often result in understaffing, which causes teachers to stretch themselves very thinly across large student bodies. In these situations, teachers may not be able to provide the level of encouragement and personal attention necessary for children to enthusiastically engage in activities. If a child does not enjoy participating in an activity, the child is unlikely to engage in that activity again in the future.
Tension between academics & activity
Teenagers are increasingly living in an achievement-oriented society, wherein the results of their efforts today can have a profound impact on their future options. In light of this, parents are getting their children involved in an array of extracurricular activities, such as debating clubs and honors classes, in order to increase their childrens chances of getting into good colleges. This additional competition on teenagers time often leads to reduced levels of activity.
Rural vs. urban settings
The natural resources and climate of a region can impact activity levels depending on the type of sports they encourage. For example, hiking is an activity that requires minimal financial resources to participate and would likely encourage higher levels of activity. However, the relatively higher cost of participation in skiing may deter people from adopting the sport and therefore drive lower levels of activity.
Media & Technology influences
Celebrity influence & Proliferation of media distribution channels
Celebrities and pop culture icons have become significant influencers of social behavior as children spend less time with their parents. The emergence of distribution channels such as Twitter has increased teenagers ability to gain direct access to celebrities. Given parents limited ability to monitor their childrens internet and mobile phone usage, teenagers are now accessing messages of varying quality. For example, children are no longer confined to watching PBS, which has focus on activity and wellness. They can now watch the latest craze on YouTube or access celebrity gossip on other outlets, which typically place a premium on glamorous lifestyles over healthy ones. Such messages can have a great degree of influence on children, who are particularly impressionable.
Addictive characteristics of technology
Perpetually connected to the internet and their mobile devices, teenagers today have become attuned to interacting with their environments using technology. Activity which requires them to disengage from electronic devices may be seen as dull and involve de-addiction from perceived high stimuli technology driven experiences.
Physical vs. virtual interaction
The advent of mobile phones and online social networks has reduced teenagers need to meet in person, as they can rely on the immediacy of virtual communication. The increased usage of these platforms has fundamentally changed the ways in which teenagers interact with one another by allowing them to remain socially engaged without needing to physically walk or bike over to see a friend.
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