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Social Marketing as a Framework for Youth Physical Activity Initiatives: a 10-Year Retrospective on the Legacy of CDC’s VERB Campaign


Purpose of Review

In 2002, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) launched the VERB. It’s what you do! campaign to increase physical activity among tweens and concomitantly respond to the rise in childhood obesity. This retrospective study summarizes the history of the VERB campaign’s social marketing approach and its effectiveness in promoting behavior change in the targeted population.

Recent Findings

The legacy of VERB, which ended in 2006, is discussed, with an emphasis on examining initiatives over the last decade and the degree to which they followed (or did not follow) the structural and thematic lead of the campaign.


The article ends with suggestions for how VERB still has the potential to inform other social marketing campaigns going forward.

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  1. 1.

    The 5-4-3-2-1 campaign addressed five daily risk-reducing behaviors with only one of the five directly addressing physical activity. The five behaviors were eat five servings of fruits and vegetables, consume four servings of water, eat three servings of low-fat dairy, limit screen time to 2 h or less, and engage in one or more hours of physical activity.

  2. 2.

    The CATCH campaign described here was a local initiative conducted in Texas from 2009 to 2013, but it came under the umbrella of the larger CATCH program that began in the 1990s prior to the implementation of VERB [31, 32].

  3. 3.

    The reader might note we have not included discussion of some other well-known national initiatives such as First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign [41] and the NFL PLAY 60 program [42]. Although they both aimed to increase physical activity among kids, neither campaign has explicitly referenced VERB as a model nor have they claimed to follow principles of social marketing.

  4. 4.

    The VERB Scorecard was a wallet-sized card that offered free physical activity options for kids, and it functioned as a ticket to enter fun physical activities within communities such as public pools and skating rinks. Kids also were able to track their activities, and when they were active for a designated period of time at a sponsored venue, an adult signed one of the 24 blocks on the card. When all squares were filled, the tween could then redeem the card prizes such as beach towels and water bottles, and they also became eligible for a grand prize drawing for larger prizes such as bicycles and running shoes [43].


Papers of particular interest, published recently, have been highlighted as: • Of importance •• Of major importance

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This article is dedicated to the memory of Tim Edgar, PhD, who died January 2, 2017, as a result of a car accident in India. Tim was extraordinary in so many ways and his professionalism, kindness, and commitment to his students, colleagues, and friends will long be remembered and appreciated.

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Marian Huhman.

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Conflict of Interest

Marian Huhman, Ryan P. Kelly, and Timothy Edgar declare they have no conflict of interest.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.

Additional information

This article is part of the Topical Collection on Obesity Prevention

Timothy Edgar is deceased.

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Huhman, M., Kelly, R.P. & Edgar, T. Social Marketing as a Framework for Youth Physical Activity Initiatives: a 10-Year Retrospective on the Legacy of CDC’s VERB Campaign. Curr Obes Rep 6, 101–107 (2017).

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  • Social marketing
  • VERB
  • CDC
  • Behavior change
  • Physical activity
  • Tweens
  • Adolescents
  • Youth
  • Kids
  • Campaigns
  • Communication
  • Product
  • Place
  • Price
  • Promotion
  • Exchange
  • Evaluation