NHS goes nuts to promote men's health

'Fit', a different kind of lads mag, has a serious message hidden between its covers
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Indy Lifestyle Online

A diet of sex, booze and celebrities may not, at first, seem an obvious source of inspiration for the NHS. Yet a new magazine in the format of weekly lads' mags like Nuts and Zoo is the latest weapon deployed in the battle to improve young men's health.

A diet of sex, booze and celebrities may not, at first, seem an obvious source of inspiration for the NHS. Yet a new magazine in the format of weekly lads' mags like Nuts and Zoo is the latest weapon deployed in the battle to improve young men's health.

This week 220,000 copies of the first edition of Fit, a free magazine launched by the independent health advice group Dr Foster and funded by the NHS and local health trusts, hit the magazine racks of surgeries, shops and football grounds in twenty areas, including Brighton, Nottingham, Birmingham and Southend.

The 36-page publication is a mix of serious features such as "Can you tell the difference between a mate who's pissed off and a mate who's depressed?" and the bizarre "He bit my nose off" account of drunken assault. An interview with Ozzy Osbourne, the low-down on Wayne Rooney's training routine, a "sex MOT" and advice on how to quit smoking and improve diet also feature. The magazine's female-targeted model is Your Life, which publishes 1.4 million copies every six months and is distributed across the country.

Fit editor Tom Whitley, formerly editor of Mixmag and deputy editor of The Face, said the target readership was "young, under-privileged men, untouched by the NHS". He explained: "If you're trying to tell an over-50 woman about breast cancer she'll instantly see the importance. If you're talking to an 18-year-old man about binge drinking it's a lot more challenging.

"They're a hard-to-reach group; young and cynical of government messages. From our research we found many don't read a national newspaper or even watch TV. They do get their media from Loaded, FHM, Nuts and Zoo though."

Despite this, he resisted the urge to run a staple diet of breasts, beer and motors: "We decided early on we weren't going to do the naked girls and lads' mag celebration of drinking and fast cars. But it's not to say we can't cover sex, drink and drugs and use their techniques of short articles, celebrities and gruesome pictures - we've got plenty of them - to get health messages across."

The result is a funny, informative product with big pictures and bite-sized text - highly readable, in other words. Innovative takes on old health hobby horses include female celebrities revealing how dates failed at the crucial moment because of excessive drinking. "Picking up less women is a more immediate concern than cirrhosis of the liver in 20 years," says Whitwell. And then there's a spread on the gadgets a 20-a-day smoker could buy if they gave up the habit. For the record: four weeks of saved cash scores a Sony Playstation Portable; nine weeks is equal to a top quality digital camera.

Important to the package is a sense of the professional finishing touch. "It had to be good enough to be placed on a newstand," says Whitwell. "If it was a throw-up between appealing to Zoo/ Nuts readers or worrying about NHS priorities we always went with the readability. It had to be a magazine and not a public health document."

Dr Foster now awaits feedback on the trial version before the NHS take a decision on whether the magazine will have a future.

Paul Merrill, editor of Zoo, thinks it will be a "good" magazine: "It will be popular because whenever I sit in a waiting room there's only a 20-year-old copy of Woman's Own announcing the royal wedding and maybe a well-thumbed Horse and Hound. But they could at least have exploited their name to get some 'fit' girls in there.

"Seeing some glamorous celebrity flesh would hasten a patient's recovery faster than a story of a bloke who had his nose bitten off. Abi Titmuss in a nurse's uniform would do wonders for morale," said Merrill.

One challenge for the editorial team of six is that because the first issue is so comprehensive - covering drinking, smoking, obesity, drug use, sexually transmitted infections and testicular cancer - it will be difficult to make future editions fresh. "Yes, it will be difficult," says Whitwell, "but Nuts and Zoo have cars, footballers and girls in every week. We'll do drinking, eating, sex and drugs in a different way next time."

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