When debate causes a rift between Americans and our elected leaders, it can be reassuring to note areas of broad consensus. For example, most everyone agrees that obesity threatens individual health and quality of life. Despite a range of opinions on the particulars, we see this collectively as a public health priority with profound implications for health care costs and a myriad of other effects.
We know that obesity and physical inactivity fuel a wide array of chronic conditions, from diabetes and hypertension to coronary heart disease and cancer. The science is clear and the conclusion is unmistakable: preventable diseases impact the health and livelihood of far too many Americans, and we as a society have to pay for it.
Enter the National Prevention Strategy, a comprehensive plan that will help increase the number of Americans who are healthy at every stage of life. Thoroughly researched and carefully considered, the strategy was guided by a distinguished panel headed by U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, MD, MBA, and informed by listening sessions, town hall meetings and guidance from experts and stakeholders from a variety of backgrounds. As announced in June, the plan is built on four strategic pillars:
- Building Healthy and Safe Community Environments: Prevention of disease starts in our communities and at home; not just in the doctor's office.
- Expanding Quality Preventive Services in Both Clinical and Community Settings: When people receive preventive care, such as immunizations and cancer screenings, they have better health and lower health care costs.
- Empowering People to Make Healthy Choices: When people have access to actionable and easy-to-understand information and resources, they are empowered to make healthier choices.
- Eliminating Health Disparities: By eliminating disparities in achieving and maintaining health, we can help improve quality of life for all Americans.
Proponents of physical activity know that prevention means more than diagnostic medical tests. The Strategy shines a spotlight on active living, since exercise has been demonstrated to prevent and treat more than 40 chronic diseases. Noting that at least 40 percent of adults and 80 percent of adolescents do not regularly meet the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, the Strategy pinpoints five key areas of action:
1. Encourage community design and development that supports physical activity.
2. Promote and strengthen school and early learning policies and programs that increase physical activity.
3. Facilitate access to safe, accessible and affordable places for physical activity.
4. Support workplace policies and programs that increase physical activity.
5. Assess physical activity levels and provide education, counseling and referrals.
If these look familiar, it is because they represent the best, evidence-based recommendations as sifted by the Strategy's comprehensive, inclusive process.
Consensus is Comforting
The recommendations in the Strategy align with those of the National Physical Activity Plan, which is eminently credible and well on its way to implementation. Similarly, they are comparable to Exercise is Medicine, the ACSM American Fitness Index and workplace wellness initiatives. This underscores the validity of our growing understanding that Americans have much to gain from adopting physically active lifestyles, and that we know collectively how to make that happen.
What elements of the National Prevention Strategy, the National Physical Activity Plan and other initiatives can most readily be adopted in your organization? In your community?