Good Morning America segment lands some hard punches on the AHA

American Heart Association versus Good Morning America

Why don’t they just duke it out on Wii boxing?

Today Good Morning America pummeled the American Heart Association for its new “strategic relationship” with Nintendo. Later in the day, in an effort to contain the damage, the AHA issued a press release (see below) clarifying its position.

Dr. Richard Besser, in a segment titled “Medical Fact Check,” raised some pointed questions and landed more than a few jabs: “Does it send a mixed message about healthy lifestyles?” he asked, and “why promote a product linked to obesity?”

In an interview with Besser, AHA president Clyde Yancy said it was important for the AHA to engage people “where they are.” When Besser asked him point-blank how much money the AHA was getting from Nintendo Yancy tried to bob and weave: “Certainly resources have exchanged hands because it takes quite a bit to launch a new initiative…” said Yancy.

This provided Besser the opportunity to play rope-a-dope and ask Yancy the exact same question. Realizing that he’d been cornered, Yancy acknowledged that “over 3 years it’s a 1.5 million dollar gift.”

GMA hired its own judges for the match. Besser said they had asked a number of  “respected minds in medicine” about the issue and reported that “3 to 1 they had real concerns.” No word about exactly how many respected minds they had actually counted, or how respected those minds actually were, but they did then play a snippet of an interview with Columbia’s David Rothman, who said, “sooner rather than later the public is going to understand that this is a commercial transaction.”

At the conclusion of the segment, GMA anchor George Stephenopolous pointed out an obvious contradiction in Yancy’s position: “the doctor there says the logo is not for sale but you only get it if you pay.”

Besser agreed: “I think it’s extremely concerning… here you have a medical association that sets standards for physical activity that’s taking 1.5 million dollars from a videogame company: how will they be free to criticize that industry and its contribution to obesity? Whenever you have that intersection of medicine with money you run into some trouble.”

Comment: I’m certainly no great fan of medical associations accepting money from industry, but I must say that this particular arrangement bothers me a bit less than many others I’ve seen. Certainly the AHA deal with Nintendo doesn’t strike me as abhorrent as the NIH’s deal to put a red dress on Diet Coke cans or the Susan G. Komen for the Cure deal with Kentucky Fried Chicken. The active play games on Wii represent a genuine advance, in my opinion, and should be encouraged. But that doesn’t mean that, for their past sins, Nintendo (and the other game makers, along with the TV programmers and networks) don’t have an awful lot to answer for.

It’s probably also worth questioning the self-righteousness of network news reporters on subjects relating to ethics, conflict-of-interest issues, public health, obesity, etc etc. But that’s a topic for another time.

In the meantime, to this observer at least I’d have to give the decision in today’s bout to GMA. But it wasn’t a knockout.

Here is the AHA response to the GMA segment:

American Heart Association response to Good Morning America segment

Today, Monday, May 17, 2010, ABC’s Good Morning America aired a story on the American Heart Association’s just announced strategic relationship with Nintendo of America (NOA).

We would like to provide some additional information to paint a more complete picture of this important announcement.

The AHA/NOA relationship is focused only on the “active gaming” products of Nintendo. In addition, the American Heart Association and Nintendo will also jointly launch an online information center at, where visitors can read about the benefits of physically active play, conduct personal assessments and learn more about living a more physically active lifestyle.

The GMA story implied that the AHA is endorsing all Nintendo Wii games, including those that are sedentary. This is not accurate. The AHA and Nintendo logos, along with the statement defining our relationship, “Working together to promote physically active play as part of a healthy lifestyle”, will be on boxes for the Wii Fit™ Plus and Wii Sports Resort™ software and for the Wii™ system that plays them beginning this summer.

With Nintendo, AHA reaches an important new audience, those currently playing video games, with a message that encourages people to choose the more physically active versions of these games. This is important because so many Americans are completely sedentary. We need to meet people “where they are”.

GMA also compared the benefits of ‘real’ exercise to active video gaming exercise, citing a study that “even the most active gaming doesn’t compare to real life”. We agree that participating in an actual sport is usually more vigorous than active gaming. But active gaming compares very well with sitting on the couch. The fundamental issue here is that many Americans are not getting any physical activity — 70% of Americans do not meet the levels of physical activity recommended in our guidelines and one factor is that in our society, people, both adults and kids, have replaced physical activity with time sitting in front of screens – so-called “screen time.”

So, while we first and foremost advise all Americans to meet the recommended levels of physical activity, we also recognize the importance of getting those who are totally inactive to start by doing something. Our message is one of incremental change: if you’re doing nothing, do something; if you’re doing something, do a bit more. This is the core of our goal to ‘improve the cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20% by the year 2020’.

We believe we must be bold to be successful, and we assure you that the American Heart Association refuses to sit on the sidelines, or stand around helplessly, watching as physical inactivity increases Americans’ risk of developing heart disease and stroke. Rather, we are going to ‘get in the game’ and get active to address this growing crisis.

GMA interviewed an epidemiologist with the CDC, who stated, “the amount of activity that one gains from these active gaming devices is inconclusive in terms of its benefits on health”. However, common sense says any time spent in physical activity is better than no time, and as people choose leisure time activities, it is important for us to encourage them to move from sedentary activities to those that get them moving. Actually, there is recent research that points out the substantial impact even of posture on the calories we burn during our non-exercise periods. Standing is better than sitting is better than lying down on the couch or in the recliner. This supports the idea that even small changes can be beneficial. We strongly support research that can establish conclusively the long-term benefits of physical activity, but the enormous numbers of people who are very sedentary can’t wait for that research, and we feel it would be inappropriate to wait the many years it will take for the final results of such research to be delivered. An innovation forum that will be supported by funds from the sponsorship, but developed with complete freedom by the AHA, will bring together investigators in the very areas of research critical to moving this field of prevention forward.

GMA reported, “we looked at their marketing documents, which say that carrying the label is proven to boost sales, (leading to) big money for the Heart Association and big money for the manufacturers.” However, the logo and materials that GMA were referring to were associated with our “Food Certification” program, which is, by design, revenue neutral. That means that the fees taken in go to cover the costs that it takes to run the program, as well as educate the public on nutrition and how to make healthier food choices. The Heart Check program, which consumers trust and understand, does charge food companies who believe they have products that meet our nutritional and marketing criteria a service charge to participate in our program. The service charge covers the costs for staff to compare products against the criteria, for the laboratory analysis of products, and to educate the consumer about the program. We determined when we developed the Heart Check program that we wanted to keep this program separate from our donor dollars. The donations from volunteers and supporters that the AHA receives covers research and our professional and public education efforts.

As for the money Nintendo contributed to the American Heart Association, the majority of the $1.5 million funds our prevention platform, aimed at educating Americans about heart disease and stroke prevention. A portion of the money funds Nintendo’s presence at our local Start! Heart Walk events across the country. Additionally, Nintendo is contributing $350,000 for a multidisciplinary forum of representatives from areas such as health care, research, physical activity, fitness and video gaming. The goal will be to bring together thought leaders, each with a unique perspective, to take a closer look at the synergies and potential benefits of active-play video games and physically active lifestyles, as well as to suggest urgent areas for research in the future.


  1. Brilliant write-up of this whole sorry saga Larry. I have seen Nintendo do the same with the UK Change4Life government campaign, and to be honest, I don’t blame Nintendo – they are maximizing sales as any company should seek to do.

    It is disappointing that organizations are so easily duped, however, espicially as there are far better active games (that actually do reach MVPA levels and can sustain interest for years, not days).

    I would urge these organizations to take a look at the Games for Health conference in Boston next week. This is where active games and researchers can be seen and spoken to independently. Not one is on the Nintendo payroll.

    There are also resources out there to help educate the public, and I think this is why this is a sorry saga – the public is being duped by association – namely The Exergame Network, that has discussion groups and a public wiki site, and Exergames Unlocked.

  2. how much money did american heart association contibute for research in 2010?

  3. how much money did american heart association reasearch in 2010?


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