Men’s Health was launched in 1987, under the editorial leadership of Mark Bricklin, as a general health and fitness magazine for American men. The president of Rodale Press, Robert Teufel, conceived of the magazine as a workout and healthy lifestyle magazine in keeping with the philosophy of its founding company. J. I. Rodale created Rodale Press in 1942 when he began to publish Organic Farming and Gardening, a magazine devoted to promoting sustainable food production, soil improvement, and natural living. In 1950, Rodale Press turned its attention more directly to health with the publication of Prevention, a magazine devoted to illness and disease prevention. Rodale Press remains a foremost publisher of health and wellness magazines with a diverse range of titles including Women’s Health (f. 2005) and Runner’s World (f. 1966).
Men’s Health began life as an annual publication but, by 1988, had emerged as a quarterly. By 1994, the magazine was published 10 times a year with combined issues for January and February and July and August. From the beginning, the magazine focused on the ways in which men could enhance and improve their lives, and by extension the appearance of their faces and their bodies, through exercise and healthy living. The magazine, from its inception, has privileged expert knowledge and opinions, citing in its articles a range of scientific and medical studies authored by seasoned professionals and relying on credentialed nutritionists, sex therapists, and sport-science specialists in formulating advice for its readers. Almost from the magazine’s inception, contributors to Men’s Health have also presented readers with advice on a broad range of emotional issues, especially those related to stress relief. This multipronged approach to male wellness led to some great commercial successes in the 1990s. Over the course of this decade of dramatic expansion for the men’s magazine market, the circulation figures for Men’s Health grew from just under 500,000 in 1991 to nearly 1.7 million by 1999. The 1990s also witnessed the dramatic expansion of the magazine’s readership with the introduction of a number of international editions; there are currently more than 30 international editions of the magazine available in a diverse range of countries including Australia, China, Croatia, India, and Turkey.
As Men’s Health faced increasing competition at the beginning of the 21st century, its editors (most notably editor-in-chief David Zinczenko) sought to broaden the appeal of the magazine by expanding its content and incorporating a number of new features on careers, finances, family life, and personal grooming. This shift in focus was also reflected in covers for the magazine which, with Zinczenko at the helm, moved away from photographs of impossibly chiseled and shirtless physique models toward images of fully clothed celebrities and athletes. This attempt to create a more comprehensive lifestyle or how-to manual for men has had the effect of defining the Men’s Health audience, in more highly articulated ways, as white, heterosexual, and educated. Like Gentlemen’s Quarterly (GQ), Esquire, and the so-called lads’ magazines (Maxim, FHM, Stuff ), Men’s Health has also focused the attention of readers on matters of sexual performance and proficiency while providing them with titillating images (particularly in its online versions) of attractive women. This shift in content focus has not led to a decline in the number of items dealing explicitly with men’s physical appearance. Features on creating highly defined pectoral or abdominal muscles still punctuate the pages of the magazine, alongside articles outlining the benefits of different facial creams, revitalizing eye gels, and exfoliators. Magazines like Men’s Health and GQ have thus contributed to a broad range of impulses: on the one hand, they have privileged the traditional heterosexual gaze (encouraging men to view women as sex objects); on the other, they have been noted to have filled their pages with fashionable and attractive men who are viewed by male readers simultaneously as objects of envy and desire.
Despite these changes, Men’s Health continues to take its mission to promote health and exercise seriously. In the 1990s, it lobbied U.S. Congress to pass legislation mandating that the week of Father’s Day be designated National Men’s Health Week and, in 2007, it inaugurated a FitSchools campaign to combat childhood obesity and encourage health and exercise awareness in the nation’s schools.