When I was a little kid growing up in Iceland I always dreamed about creating something that could have an impact on the whole world and even as a young boy I was passionate about fitness and sports. But it was around 20 years ago, when I was competing in aerobics competitions all over the globe and holding lectures and speeches about health, that I realised there were no 'healthy' role models in popular culture for children.
I thought to myself, how can I motivate families to make healthy lifestyle choices? Or how can I motivate children to move? Children don't really understand the concept of health. You can't give them an apple and say "if you eat this you will be healthy when you're older" because they don't understand. You have to find a different way to motivate them. Children up to the age of seven are like sponges. They look up to adults and copy what they do. So I thought if I could create a positive role model - a superhero if you like - who moves around and has a balanced lifestyle - then they would be motivated to move more.
This inspired me to write a book for families and kids called Go, Go LazyTown!, with the character Sportacus at its heart. It was an instant bestseller and served as the basis for a board game and a live show in Iceland, which became incredibly popular. We started releasing CDs of the songs and this led to us opening a radio station (which we still operate) and holding a mini-marathon for kids. With all of this success in Iceland we knew we had created a special concept that could be turned into a tv show, possibly with the ability to appeal to families and kids around the world - and the idea for the LazyTown TV series was born...
When we were creating the show we had had three main ideas in our minds. One was that children need positive role models for healthy living, the second was that children won't tolerate being preached at - they'll just reach for the "off button" and the third was that children learn best when they're having fun. So we developed the superhero Sportacus who lives in this lively, colourful and vibrant world LazyTown. The storylines were simple but exciting and the production values were high. The characters were encouraged to eat fruit and vegetables under the name of SportsCandy and active Sportacus always saved the day - rescuing the people of LazyTown from the underhand schemes of lazy Robbie Rotten! The message was clear but it was all delivered with the emphasis on turning boring things (such as health) into a game.
Bolstered by the success of the series in Iceland, we were ready to take it round the world - and what a journey it's been! LazyTown is now shown in 172 countries and transmitted in 30 different languages. I've been mobbed in Madrid, feted in the Philippines and cheered in Chile! Tickets to a LazyTown live show in Mexico City once sold out quicker than tickets for U2 and I've even been awarded an honorary degree from a university in Plymouth!
But perhaps my proudest moments have been when I feel I've made an impact. In 2006 Iceland's medical director claimed in public that the reason Iceland's obesity levels had dropped was down to LazyTown and I've been involved in healthy eating campaigns around the world - including the Change 4 Life campaign in the UK.
And then last year Michelle Obama called on Sportacus's services to launch her Let's Move! campaign to get US pre-schoolers and their families more active. I was really honoured when she asked me to be involved. As someone who has spent the last 20 years trying to inspire children to lead healthier balanced lifestyles it was a huge thrill to be able to spread the message on such an important stage. And playing Duck, Duck Chicken with the First Lady in the White House is something I won't forget in a hurry!
In the UK we have done some research that shows that the majority of families are going out and exercising together between two to four times a week and that's really encouraging. But it seems that some of the time parents and children aren't having fun. There will always be distractions to stop people from getting out and moving around like cost and time constraints. But if I could spread one message it would be that moving around doesn't need to be expensive, complicated or a chore. If parents could just get their children moving around in the most simple and fun ways - jumping in leaves, dancing to pop music, throwing socks in a laundry basket - they could be sowing the seeds of great habits that could last a lifetime. It is all about turning it into a game.
The third series of LazyTown starts on Cartoonito on Saturday April 6 at 9am. Magnus Scheving's top tips for getting families active together can be found here
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