Prevention, as a word, is very prevalently used in our world today. Firemen use it. Politicians use it. Even doctors use it. That wasn’t necessarily the case back in 1950 when my grandfather launched Prevention magazine. “That’s a stupid name for a magazine,” my father told him. Whatever the 1950s equivalent was of “F*#k off” was my grandfather’s official response.
When it launched, it was an immediate success. Like, huge. Turns out there were a lot of people—both men and women, but mostly women—who didn’t want to rely on a doctor to fix them all the time and who believed in the power of food, exercise, and nutrition to keep them healthy in the first place. I called them the “Prevention Ladies” because, as I grew up and I met many people, it was these women who would say to me, “Oh, I’ve been reading Prevention forever, and it has been my inspiration.” There was something all these women shared: a glow, a strength, an intelligence that stood out from the crowd. Many of them were in their 80s by the time I met them, but they looked like they were in their 50s or 60s (and not because of surgery or Botox).
This original group of readers was informed—way before anyone else. In 1952, Prevention magazine told them that smoking caused lung cancer. (In 1952, doctors were still being featured in cigarette ads, which by the way, Prevention has never accepted.) In 1954, Prevention readers learned about the connection between fish oils and preventing heart disease, a linkage that continues to drive the consumption of fish oils as supplements today.
But of course, with great success comes many challenges. Prevention‘s primary advertising category (OK, its only ad category), mail-order vitamins, began to gain acceptance with mainstream consumers. I remember it well and I think it was the year my father’s hair turned grey. Suddenly, the very thing that had been ridiculed by doctors and the government for 30 years began showing up on supermarket and drugstore shelves. Why? Because people—Prevention readers—had been asking for it!
So, like any business going through a societal shift, aka “disruption” (even a good one caused by the very business itself), Prevention had to pivot and become more appealing to mainstream advertisers. When we started to cater to a broader variety of advertisers, we started getting lots of questions and feedback—on everything from our demographics to our content. Our digest-size magazine, which readers loved, was too small for some advertisers. Our cutting-edge stories were too hard-hitting for certain doctors and pharmaceutical companies. Striking the balance to both attract advertisers and please our readers became increasingly difficult. Over time, we lost our editorial edge, our point of differentiation, and even the spirit of the brand.
Then suddenly, the medical establishment was widely adopting the word prevention to mean “early screenings.” “Get your preventative mammogram every year!” “Get your preventive tests to make sure we can treat you as quickly as possible.” While I do believe early screenings are important, there is a truth here I must say out loud: Screenings aren’t PREVENTION. Prevention is the behaviors and actions that people take to ensure that those screenings come out clear! Prevention is about finding health, healing, happiness, and love through things like food (preferably organic, always nourishing), exercise (doesn’t have to be extreme to be effective), personal growth (intellectual, emotional, and spiritual), healthy relationships, good work, and a fearless willingness to experiment to find what works for each unique individual.
The one common denominator I have seen in our most devoted readers over the years is that they refuse to give up until they find their personal version of health and healing. They might start with the medical system, but they will eventually start to seek understanding and answers elsewhere. They go out on their own personal journey to create their own health, and often, that’s when the magic happens. They might find their answer in acupuncture, or they might find it in changing jobs or relationships. They might find their answer through yoga or running, or they might find it through dancing or going on a vision quest. They might find their answer in eliminating gluten and GMOs, or they might find it by consulting with a shaman. Or through all of the above! That’s when Prevention magazine is at its best—when it’s your guidebook for your personal journey toward health, healing, happiness, and love.
Because let’s face it and face it head-on: Being healthy isn’t just about looking good on the outside. Fads and extreme diets are not going to protect your long-term mental and physical well-being. But your behaviors just might. That’s why the idea of Prevention has to be expanded to include things beyond the traditional definition of health-promoting habits—good food and exercise—to include things like emotions, environment, behaviors, relationships, and yes, love—love of yourself and of others.
Because let’s face another truth here. We can work hard to prevent an early death, but our goal is not to live forever (ummm, that would get old and boring pretty quickly). Our goal is to live a good life and, when we’re done, to have a peaceful death. And hopefully, we’ll all leave our world a little better off after our time here.
Sixty-six years after Prevention was launched, our world is more complicated than ever. We now know that obesity isn’t just about counting calories and having willpower, but about everything from endocrine disruptors to our gut microbiome. We know that DNA isn’t hardwired, but more like software that can be changed by both our behaviors and our environment (epigenetics). We also know that environmental health is crucial to our personal health. Our increasing attachment to technology and numerous mobile devices is not only impacting us physiologically (neck pain, vision troubles, and such), but is also affecting everything from our social patterns to our sleep schedules…and now we’re increasingly looking to these same devices to manage our health care! Getting to the bottom of what we need to know, as well as how to digest it all, is what we are here to help with.
And that, my friends, is why we are taking Prevention advertising free starting in July 2016. If we are truly to fulfill the spirit and promise of the Prevention brand, we need the freedom to say what needs to be said and done in order to make the whole world healthier, happier, and safer. This is something my family and I have wanted to do for years. But now, finally, the time is right.
We need to take a hard look at the state of America’s healthcare system—the problems and challenges, the costs and resources—and how to navigate the consistently changing landscape. And healing our approach to health care—personally and collectively—can’t happen from a place of fear; it can only happen with courage and a willingness to take risks and make change. Prevention has shown the way since 1950, and it’s about to show the way again. And personally, I am extremely excited about what the future holds…for all of us!
One of my favorite sayings of all is from the movie Strictly Ballroom: “A life lived in fear is a life half lived.” Well, here is to a long, healthy, happy fearless life lived to the fullest with love, joy, pleasure, deep meaning, and purpose!
We’d be interested in knowing more about your advertising ideas. We are a group of professionals working out of the Twin Ponds building. At least 15 mixed professions, tai chi, counseling, body workers, food consultants, movement therapists.
Brave. Smart. And I hope you can afford to sustain it.
My father and grandfather were charter subscribers to Prevention. I grew up with it. And with a dream that I might write for it some day. Am grateful for the opportunity and years I had writing for Rodale. Even though I was critical of how formulaic and mainstream-catering it had become.
This move seems so right to me. Am proud of you, Maria, for taking it. And, like many others I am sure, I can only speculate and am curious and eager to see what the business model will be.
I don’t understand why you can’t have both a hard-hitting, truthful editorial product and advertisers at the same time. Seems to me that a lot of companies would want to deliver their message within a magazine that becomes known for no-BS articles and great advice.
Congratulations Maria, on breaking the mold and making a bold decision that will enable Prevention to travel into inspiring and valuable editorial territory with an expanded point of view far beyond what you would otherwise be able to achieve in a publication of this size and scale of societal influence. So exciting!
What am I missing here? How will eliminating ads allow Prevention to “travel into inspiring and valuable editorial territory”? Why not become that bold magazine and still take ad money? Maybe you lose a few thin-skinned advertisers. But wouldn’t you still come out ahead?
DJ, I understand what you’re asking in regard to why a magazine can’t have hard-hitting editorial combined with advertising. The short answer is that harmonious relationships between advertisers and no nonsense editorial publications would be common in an ideal world, however in reality, advertising and truth in editorial are often at cross purposes to one another. The function of advertising is to persuade a consumer to buy something, while at it’s purest, the purpose of an editorial service publication is to communicate information to readers that is of beneficial use in their lives.
There are multiple ways to generate profit in the ever evolving media industry. Maria’s post states that management has decided to change the structure by which they intend to do that at Prevention magazine. My point of view that eliminating advertising would enable Prevention to push into editorial territory beyond what’s possible when ads are part of the equation is based on decades of my own past experience working on the visual content creation/editorial side of consumer magazine publishing, where I observed the careful balance and effort required to maintain favorable relationships with advertisers.
When a magazine uses ad based revenue as their means to try and generate profit, there is strong financial incentive to avoid taking tough editorial positions. The elimination of ads will enable Prevention to freely communicate to the readership what editors believe is of the greatest value without any risk of offending or alienating one or more advertisers.
Time will tell if readers are inspired and respond favorably to the increased range and depth of subject matter. As someone who’s always defined my own version of personal health and has a longtime affinity for Prevention, I’m rooting for the new structure to work and looking forward to the expanded avenues of editorial coverage mentioned in the post.
Hi DJ, yes, in an ideal world advertisers would love to financially subsidize and support all sorts of information. But the truth is, they have their own goals, and those goals are often at cross purposes with our customers. But it get’s more complicated than that…the publishing industry has dug itself into a hole with advertisers that impact the whole business model a magazine is built on. And many of the great types of advertisers who we would love to have in the pages of a magazine like Prevention either don’t advertise (because they don’t need to!) or can’t afford the cost. It seems like the healthiest thing of all for Prevention is to get clear, breathe and find it’s true self again and reconnect with customers in the best way possible. As a magazine that was started in 1950, Prevention has had to redefine itself again and again. This time is all about freedom and independence and creating a joyful relationship with our customers. Personally, we at Rodale are all so excited about it that I am so filled with hope for the future! Thanks for asking!