The Early Years
- The 60 year old Swede
Author Peggy Edwards relates the story behind “The 60-year-old
Swede” in the Canadian Public Health Association special supplement
"The 60 year old Swede
message, really became the point at which we had a major breakthrough
in the conscience of Canadians."
In 1972 ParticipACTION’s national coordinator, Russ Kisby,
was reviewing a book by Dr. Roy Shephard (University of Toronto)
on international fitness comparisons. Swedes ranked at the top and
Canadians were well down the list. In particular, he noticed that
some Swedish men at age sixty had the same fitness level as some
Canadian men aged thirty. Then Director General of ParticipACTION
, Keith McKerracher, immediately seized on the opportunity to meld
these two ideas.
McKerracher created a 15-second television public service announcement
(PSA) showing a 60-year-old Swede jogging effortlessly beside a
puffing 30-year-old Canadian. This message was shown only six times
during Canadian Football League games in 1973.
The outcry was immediate and even sparked a debate in parliament.
Canadians were alarmed and embarrassed. The message dramatized the
poor fitness level of Canadians so effectively that it became the
cornerstone of a new fitness movement. The 60-year-old Swede proved
to be a powerful communications concept that influenced social norms
– in the short term through public debate, and in the long
term because it remained a memorable “hot spot” over