Committee Member Spotlight: Featuring Dr. King

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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. Abby King professor of Health Research & Policy and Medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine. Dr. King serves as Co-Chair, along with Dr. Ken Powell, of the Committee, as well as Chair of the Promotion of Physical Activity Subcommittee, and a member of the Aging Subcommittee.

What led to your interest in physical activity?

Growing up I was very active: I played tennis with my sister, did gymnastics, rode bikes, and hiked with my family. I never thought of these activities as “exercise,” they were simply things I enjoyed doing. However, as I became an adult, it was harder to fit these activities into my increasingly hectic schedule. I began to realize as a graduate student in clinical psychology that staying active was going to take some work, given all of the competing demands in life. I turned my observations into research. For my master’s thesis, I designed a randomized controlled trial testing out different low-cost behavioral strategies for increasing physical activity in college students. Since then, I’ve continued to concentrate on identifying effective strategies and programs to help people increase and maintain regular physical activity where they live, work, and play.

Dr. King Hiking in Northern California.

Tell me about some of your recent research.

I am particularly interested in discovering how to best utilize the potential power and convenience of today’s cutting-edge information and communication technologies to reach more people in more personalized ways. The challenge lies in connecting with all residents in a community, regardless of their educational or financial circumstances, or their familiarity with computers and mobile devices. This means shaping programs and strategies to meet the specific needs of different segments of the population. I am also passionate about harnessing the power of residents to figure out ways to make their environments more “physical activity-friendly”. Our current citizen science research initiative, “Our Voice”, allows residents from all age groups, cultures, and walks of life to capture the barriers to active living in their own neighborhoods and communities through an easy-to-use mobile app called the “Discovery Tool”. After identifying a neighborhood barrier, residents learn how to work with local decision-makers to make low-cost changes in their local environments that can enable more active lifestyles. This community-engaged research model is being tested in over 20 different communities in the United States and internationally.

If you could change one thing in this world to make it easier for Americans to meet the Guidelines, what would it be?

Many Americans don’t realize the impact of their local environments on their ability to be regularly active. But a growing body of research shows how important living in “walkable” neighborhoods and communities can be to an individual’s daily activity levels. That is why the “Our Voice” research initiative described earlier was developed. Through finding ways to work together to improve their own local environments, residents can make it easier for everyone in the neighborhood to live more active lives. The best thing about walkable environments is that many people naturally find themselves being more active, without having to motivate themselves or put aside significant amounts of time to go somewhere to exercise.

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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.

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