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October 7, 1992

The Health Movement: Promoting Fitness in America

Author Affiliations

Boston College Chestnut Hill, Mass

JAMA. 1992;268(13):1779. doi:10.1001/jama.1992.03490130167053

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Within the last two decades, concerns with health have inundated American life, from the mass media to cocktail party talk, to the extent that a movement whose beginnings can be traced to the early 19th century and sometimes earlier has now become part of popular culture. The fitness movement has influenced economics and politics, science and medicine.

The author deals with nutrition, physical exercise, and smoking, and in each case traces the movement's beginnings to the 19th century or even earlier, when its appeal was already related to social well-being and social change. For example, he writes, "Benjamin Rush and other leaders of the American Revolution equated health with revolution."

The movement's ideology has been infused with spiritual and religious concerns and with messianic zeal. At the same time, according to the sociologist Kingsley Davis, like the mental health movement some 50 years ago, which appealed to American middle-class values,