HHS Assistant Secretary Koh calls exercise “the best vaccine we have for numerous diseases”
INDIANAPOLIS – Dr. Howard Koh’s choice of theme and forum for his first speech as assistant secretary for health of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reflects his lifelong commitment to the health benefits of physical activity and exercise. As the nation wrestles with health care reform, the economics of preventive health care are more germane than ever.
Koh addressed the National Physical Activity Plan Conference (originally called for by the American College of Sports Medicine) July 1 in his first speech since being sworn in June 22. The conference brought together about 250 experts working to develop a national physical activity plan to launch during the first quarter of 2010.
Proposing as a goal “the highest attainable standard of health” for all Americans, Koh said, “In many ways, physical activity is a prime example of prevention at its very best.” Having underscored the importance of America’s first-ever federal physical activity guidelines, issued in October 2008, Koh said that “we have the shared responsibility to make them a reality.” He also noted that HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius “cares deeply about prevention.”
Koh was introduced by Dr. David Satcher, a former U.S. Surgeon General (1998-2002) who shares Koh’s deep commitment to physical activity.
“Physical activity is not just about saving lives—it’s about quality of life,” Satcher said. Noting the cost savings associated with healthy lifestyles, he recommended workplace wellness programs, saying, “The data show that for every dollar invested, we save almost four dollars.”
Survey shows broad support for physical activity as an important preventive measure
The public agrees with Koh and Satcher. A national omnibus survey commissioned by the American College of Sports Medicine 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 the 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.
Priorities address health care reform
Eight working groups are developing recommendations for the physical activity plan, focusing on business and industry, health care, education, parks and recreation, public health, nonprofit organizations, mass media, and transportation and urban design. Working groups will continue to refine the recommendations in consultation with a broader circle of experts over the next six months or so.
For more information on the National Physical Activity Plan, visit www.physicalactivityplan.org.
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.