Committee Member Spotlight: Featuring Dr. Powell

The Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee is composed of 17 nationally recognized experts in the fields of physical activity and health. These distinguished individuals agreed to serve on the Committee in a voluntary capacity to review current evidence and make recommendations that will help inform the next edition of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. This post is part of a series of interviews with the Committee members to learn more about the men and women providing independent expertise and service to improve the health of the Nation.

Today, we are highlighting Dr. Ken Powell, a public health and epidemiologic consultant. He was an epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for 25 years and with the Georgia Department of Human Resources for nearly 8 years. On the Committee, Dr. Powell is a co-chair and is a member of the majority of subcommittees.

What led to your interest in physical activity?

Spring of my freshman year in college I weighed the most I have ever weighed. In response, I decided to train for an intramural wrestling tournament. During my training I realized that I felt better, slept better, and studied better. It was this time in my life that I began to exercise on a regular basis, not because of the long-term health benefits but because I felt better. Later on, while working as an epidemiologist at the CDC studying infectious disease, it became apparent that the leading cause of death in the United States had shifted to chronic disease. The risk of several of those chronic diseases appeared to be linked to our behaviors. I began to think we should study health behaviors with the same epidemiologic methods we use to study diseases, and in 1983 I got my chance to start a new branch at CDC. The first health behavior we studied was physical activity, and I’ve been interested ever since.

Dr. Powell vacuuming.

Tell me about the picture you selected.

 I’m vacuuming! There is a well-established, although incorrect perception that the benefits of physical activity require high intensity competitive sport or exercise. I’m vacuuming not only because our home periodically needs to be vacuumed, but also because it is good for me. The benefits of physical activity can be accrued from a wide variety of behaviors, including the least glamorous chores.

Explain your view of the role of physical activity in health.

Physical activity is essential for a healthy body to function efficiently; it not only reduces risk of illness, it improves our ability to function physically and mentally in all aspects of our lives. Through a myriad of physiologic and metabolic pathways, it influences: the function of cells, tissues, and organs in all of the organ systems of the body. The breadth of its benefits is extraordinary. Sadly, the benefits of physical activity are quite underappreciated.

If you had 3 wishes to change aspects related to physical activity what would you wish for:

First, I would wish that everyone knew the extensive health benefits of physical activity and had access to a safe and pleasant place to engage in it. Second, I wish that workplaces would recognize that adopting policies that promote regular physical activity will improve employee health and productivity.  Finally, I wish that every child could have a childhood like mine with opportunities to play outside with siblings and neighbors, and plenty of time for unstructured play.


The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion would like to personally thank each of the members for their dedication and service on the Committee. The Committee’s independent review of the scientific literature is the result of thousands of hours of work and will culminate with the submission of the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Scientific Report to the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).  HHS will use the report to develop the next edition of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.