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Policymakers, Experts, Public Agree: Physical Activity Plan Needed

by Craig Odar | Aug 01, 2011
Strategy will help prevent disease, lower health care costs

INDIANAPOLIS – Dozens of the nation’s leading organizations in health care, science, medicine and public health are meeting in Washington, D.C., this week with one goal in mind: to develop a national physical activity plan that will make America healthier. Congressional leaders and members of the public both agree that emphasizing disease prevention measures, such as increasing physical activity, is essential to combating chronic diseases, which account for 70 percent of all deaths in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The preventive power of physical activity has been noted by lawmakers. During mark-up of the Affordable Health Choices Act in the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) said: “The one overarching goal of health care reform is to recreate America as a genuine wellness society – one that emphasizes wellness, fitness, good nutrition, and disease prevention. Consider this: Right now, some 75 percent of health care costs are accounted for by heart disease, diabetes, prostate cancer, breast cancer, and obesity.  What these five diseases and conditions have in common is that they are largely preventable and even reversible by changes in nutrition, physical activity, and lifestyle.”

Reflecting a growing consensus on the subject, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said during the 2008 Presidential campaign, “Parents should provide their children with healthier meals and make exercise a family activity; schools must provide children with nutrition education and should offer more opportunities for physical education; and health-care providers should use yearly checkups as an opportunity to guide their patients through diet and fitness goals."

The plan will focus on eight key sectors that have heavy influence on physical activity: business and industry, the nonprofit sector, health care, transportation, education, mass media, parks and recreation, and public health.

The American College of Sports Medicine originally called for the development of the plan following a 2006 policy conference. Russell Pate, Ph.D., FACSM, is the scientific lead for the national plan and also served on the advisory committee for the first-ever federal physical activity guidelines. Pate believes the plan will spur necessary change for Americans.

"A comprehensive National Physical Activity Plan will build on the momentum created by release of the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans,” he said. “This Plan will be aimed at launching a social movement that shifts the American lifestyle to one characterized by high levels of health-promoting physical activity."

The public agrees. A national omnibus survey commissioned by ACSM found that:

  • 94 percent of Americans feel a national physical activity plan is important in helping citizens avoid chronic conditions and diseases. This was especially true in younger generations – nearly 10 percent more citizens age 49 or younger thought a plan was “extremely important,” possibly signaling their heightened knowledge about the importance of disease prevention in the aging process.
  • 97 percent of Americans think changes in health care system that support disease prevention through physical activity are important. Minorities especially endorsed these changes, with 83 percent of African-Americans recognizing them as “extremely important.”

The survey represented a national sample of 1,000 Americans age 18 and over from various geographic regions and demographics. Kelton Research, a leading national public opinion and market research firm, conducted the survey June 19-25. Margin of error is less than 3.1 percent.

During implementation of the plan, the national plan coordinating committee will use the survey information to target specific populations in need of physical activity intervention. The full national plan will be unveiled in the first quarter of 2010. For more information, visit www.physicalactivityplan.org.

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The American College of Sports Medicine is the largest sports medicine and exercise science organization in the world. More than 35,000 international, national, and regional members and certified professionals are dedicated to advancing and integrating scientific research to provide educational and practical applications of exercise science and sports medicine.

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