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Policy Corner: ACSM Asks President to Address Importance of Physical Activity in State of the Union

Presidential State of the Union messages are historic, serving as snapshots of each administration’s policy agenda. Advocates engage in a push-and-pull rhetorical contest to have their priorities mentioned, from taxes to immigration and hundreds of other issues. With physical activity being of vital importance to U.S. health, the American College of Sports Medicine took a lead role in asking that tonight’s State of the Union address (9:00 p.m. ET) include a reference to physical activity.

Whether or not our suggestion makes it into the President’s remarks to Congress and the nation, ACSM has made its point, as White House staff have acknowledged. The letter, signed by well over 100 other organizations, sums up the case for physical activity as a way to keep Americans healthy and fit, with numerous other benefits. ACSM will continue to lead the charge for keeping physical activity as a public health priority.

The letter said, in part: “As you prepare for your State of the Union address on January 28th, we respectfully request that you dedicate a portion of your address to the benefits and power of physical activity. Physical activity has been shown to reduce health care costs, prevent chronic disease, enhance productivity and improve quality of life. Numerous studies reinforce the common-sense principle of maintaining health through physical activity and exercise and with its ability to treat and prevent obesity, diabetes, heart and bone disease and other chronic conditions, exercise is powerful medicine, indeed.”

Noting the success of the First Lady’s Let’s Move! initiative and other programs in stemming the rise in childhood obesity, the signers – representing medical and public health associations, trade groups, sports organizations and industry, among others – urged the president to support:
  • Public education programs to ensure that all Americans understand the benefits of healthy lifestyles and how to take advantage of the range of options open to them;
  • Professional education so that health professionals consider physical activity a vital sign like blood pressure and cholesterol levels, to be monitored and tracked regularly;
  • Electronic Medical Records that include fields for physical activity. As health provider systems convert to EMRs, they can easily begin to track exercise as a vital sign;
  • Medical school curricula that give all physicians an adequate grounding in how to counsel patients on healthy lifestyles, and
  • Increased opportunities for underserved populations to enjoy exercise and physical activity, by addressing disparities in the built environment, access to equipment and other barriers.
The American College of Sports Medicine has long advocated for physical activity as a public health measure, based on research published in its journals and the experiences of its members who range from clinical physicians to academics, public health leaders and health fitness professionals. ACSM’s signature programs include the Exercise is Medicine® global health initiative and the ACSM American Fitness Index. The College plays a leadership role in numerous coalitions and partnerships, including Designed to Move and Every Body Walk!

ACSM leaders point out that, with health care costs rising at unsustainable rates, the demonstrated ability of physical activity to prevent and treat chronic disease makes it imperative to help all Americans meet federal physical activity guidelines: 150 minutes per week for healthy adults and 300 minutes per week for children.

While calls for an emphasis on physical activity must compete with innumerable other suggested topics for inclusion in the State of the Union message, advocates see this process as another opportunity to bring policy makers’ attention to the manifold benefits of healthy lifestyles. more

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