Physical activity effectively promoted to Arabic speaking countries through translation and social media dissemination of viral video ‘23½ hours’

By Ann Gates (@exerciseworks), Dr Mike Evans (@docmikeevans) and

Dr SalihAlAnsari (@SaudiHPC)

The World Health Organisation describes physical activity promotion to mass populations as one of its top 5 ‘Best Buys’. We collaborated to develop an Arabic version of the viral social media success 23 ½ hours to promote the importance of regular exercise to Arab countries. Particularly, those countries at high risk of inactivity associated with the non-communicable diseases epidemic of obesity, diabetes, cancer and heart disease. The Co-operation Council for Arab States (CCG) has identified that non communicable diseases (NCDs) cause more than 60% of all deaths in the region. In addition to video development, we conducted a ‘best buy’ research study to evaluate its effectiveness in reaching this audience. Our aims were to:

  • Monitor and analyse the uptake of the video via Twitter, Facebook and YouTube
  • Compare the success of the original English video with the Arabic version
  • Understand the different viewing patterns of men and women in the English and Arabic speaking countries

The results were amazing!

There are 1.6 million views of the Arabic version to date (viewing statistics represented 92% coverage of the Arab States). This video was the fifth most viewed YouTube video (covering ALL YouTube video releases) during the second week of the launch.

Other study highlights include:

  • Significant viewing differences in sex and age range by country (available by country on request); overall, 76% of the viewers were male and 24% female
  • The viral spread of the Arabic version was significantly faster over 6 months than the English version
  • The relative audience retention data (when compared to YouTube’s average statistical data) showed slightly below average for the full 9.21 minutes.
  • The release of the Arabic version caused a significant spike in viewing figures for the English version.
  • 64% of viewers shared the link via Facebook compared with 88% for the English version.

Our results show that health professionals are able to successfully promote key health messages using social media. The translated 23.5 hrs communicated the benefit of simply walking for 30 minutes each day, to a large audience (in a short timeframe) in a region where greater physical activity promotion is of key importance.

This clearly demonstrates how social media may be used as a powerful tool for targeted messaging about regular exercise and physical activity interventions to communities at risk of NCDs.

A sum of take home messages are:

  • The viral social media spread of important health messages can reach specific ‘at-risk’ populations
  • Specific targeted viral media campaigns need further study and evaluation. A simple ‘thumbs up’ vote system at the end of the video saying ‘has this video changed your views and behaviour on regular exercise’ may suffice.
  • Creative dissemination strategies, and the use of multiple web based platforms, may be more effective to reach large audiences and thus, combat public health problems, than traditional methods.
  • YouTube, Facebook and Twitter may revolutionise the way we deliver and implement key health messages around the world on physical activity. The 23 ½ hours video translations (covering 5 languages and including the Arabic version) has been viewed by 4.8 MILLION people. This represents a significant ‘best buy’ initiative in terms of audience access through social media and extensive international reach. For the Arabic translation to reach the fifth most viewed video on YouTube demonstrates that targeted health messages can compete effectively with audience interest, and may be in fact be as interesting to the general public as cat videos!


Ann Gates BPharm(Hons) MRPharmS, Founder of Exercise Works!

Dr Mike Evans Family physician at St. Michael’s Hospital and an Associate Professor of Family Medicine and Public Health at the University of Toronto and My Favourite Medicine

Dr Salih AlAnsari Saudi Health Promotion Centre, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

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