Category Archives: Physical activity

Oct 25 2013

The Impact of Competitive Youth Sports on Children

Hilary Levey Friedman, PhD, is an alumna of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Scholars in Health Policy Research program. She is a Harvard sociologist and author of the book Playing to Win: Raising Children in a Competitive Culture.


Youth sports have been taking a beating these days—for example we have serious concerns about concussions in football and other youth sports, along with worries about an educational system that often seems to emphasize athletics over academics. Not to mention overzealous parents and kids who attack referees, as I have previously written about. In this context it’s easy to forget that sports can help promote physical fitness, health, and even nutrition among our children.

There are additional benefits to participating in competitive youth sports, along with other competitive afterschool activities, as I detail in my recent book Playing to Win: Raising Children in a Competitive Culture (a manuscript I completed during my time as an RWJF Scholar in Health Policy Research). Children can also acquire important life lessons from activities like chess, dance, and soccer—what I call “Competitive Kid Capital,” based on my research with 95 families who have elementary school-age children involved in these competitive endeavors. These five skills and lessons are: (1) internalizing the importance of winning, (2) bouncing back from a loss to win in the future, (3) learning how to perform within time limits, (4) learning how to succeed in stressful situations, and (5) being able to perform under the gaze of others.

Read more

Jun 11 2012

Mindfulness and Yoga for Disadvantaged Urban Youth

Tamar Mendelson, PhD, is an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and an alumnus of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Health & Society Scholars program (2004-2006). Her research interests include the development of prevention and intervention strategies for reducing mental health problems, with a focus on underserved urban populations. This post is part of a series on the RWJF Health & Society Scholars program, running in conjunction with the program’s tenth anniversary. The RWJF Health & Society Scholars program is designed to build the nation’s capacity for research, leadership and policy change to address the multiple determinants of population health. Mendelson is a member of the program’s 2nd cohort.

Tamar Mendelson

Anyone who's ever spread a yoga mat across a floor will tell you that it's about more than flexibility. One of many benefits of yoga is that it helps those who practice it deal with stress in their lives. An emerging body of research points to the conclusion that yoga can have a stress-relieving effect.

One problem with the research base is that it's mostly focused on adults. But grown-ups aren’t the only ones who deal with stress in their lives. Children face it as well, and they often do it without the same resources—emotional, financial and otherwise—that adults have.

Read more

May 28 2012

New on the Human Capital Section of the RWJF Website

The Human Capital section of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) website is frequently updated with stories, profiles and features about the work of the scholars, fellows and grantees the Foundation supports. Check out a few of the new stories:

Grantee Triumphs Over Culture and Politics to Care for Women

When RWJF Clinical Scholar Crista Johnson, MD, realized that Somali, Sudanese, and other refugee or immigrant women who have undergone the traditional practice of female circumcision weren’t receiving desperately needed, culturally sensitive Ob-Gyn care, she checked her opinions at the door and set out to help. Today, she has created a model to help others learn how to treat circumcised women.

For Brain Injury Survivors, New Ways to Connect

RWJF Community Health Leader Fran Rooker is supporting a groundbreaking online program that brings brain injury survivors together despite distances and disabilities to help them overcome the long-term challenges that often come with their injury. Rooker’s telehealth program provides therapeutic supports, coaching, and encouragement.

Teaming Up Helps People Lose Weight

Years of research from RWJF Community Health Leader Rajiv Kumar’s successful Shape Up Rhode Island program has shown that individuals’ weight loss outcomes are significantly influenced by team factors. For instance, having multiple teammates pursuing weight loss and having supportive social interactions among those teammates improves outcomes.

Scholar Publishes "Cliffs Notes" for Colleagues on Top Medical Research

A new book published by RWJF Clinical Scholar Michael Hochman summaries 50 Studies Every Doctor Should Know, making the most influential medical research easily accessible for physicians and emphasizing findings that might help providers make better decisions.

See these stories and more on the Human Capital section of the RWJF website.

Apr 27 2012

Project SHAPE LA: Nurse Faculty Scholar Alum Aims to Help Children Get Active

Kynna Wright-Volel, PhD, RN, MPH, PNP-BC, FAAN, an assistant professor at the University of California, Los Angeles and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Nurse Faculty Scholar alumna, recently won a five-year, $1.2 million grant funded jointly by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Nursing Research and Office of Behavioral Social Science Research. She will use the grant to work with the Los Angeles Unified School District to launch Project SHAPE LA™, a coordinated school-health program designed to increase physical activity among youth in Los Angeles County schools.


Human Capital Blog: Please share your vision for Project Shape LA™, what its goals are and how many children and teens it will reach.

Kynna Wright-Volel: Project SHAPE LA™ targets 24 middle schools in underserved areas of Los Angeles and will touch nearly 12,000 students. With this grant, we want physical education teachers to ignite a passion for physical activity – to teach kids that by being active, they can be healthy and achieve their dreams. Anticipated outcomes from this program include: increased moderate to vigorous physical activity; increased scores on the California State Board of Education’s FitnessGram Test in the areas of aerobic fitness, body composition and muscular strength/endurance; and increased academic achievement, as evidenced by higher scores on the California standardized test.

HCB: Why is a project like this needed in your community?

Wright-Volel: According to the L.A. County Department of Public Health, one in five children in the Los Angeles Unified School District is considered obese. Health inequities exist as well; children who are racial and ethnic minorities and/or come from families with low incomes have higher rates of obesity.

Read more

Apr 3 2012

Healthy Doctors Better Able to Discuss Healthy Lifestyles with Patients

New research shows that physicians who exercise and don’t smoke are much more likely to recommend healthy lifestyle changes to their patients than their smoking or non-exercising colleagues.

Researchers surveyed 1,000 primary care physicians and found that the ones who exercised at least once a week or who didn’t smoke were twice as likely to recommend five key lifestyle changes to patients suffering from hypertension: eating a healthy diet, reducing their salt intake, reaching or maintaining a healthy weight, limiting their use of alcohol and exercising regularly.

According to an article in American Medical News, the findings were presented at a March 14 meeting of the American Heart Association (AHA). “Practicing what we preach is important,” Jo Marie Reilly, MD, an associate professor at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, is quoted saying. “Physicians are just more aware and better able to counsel patients if they take care of themselves.”

“Physicians who are healthier themselves are more apt to counsel patients about healthy lifestyle and diet,” agrees Ralph Sacco, MD, immediate past president of AHA and chairman of neurology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. “They are more educated, more personally invested in personal health and therefore, better health advocates for their patients.”

Reilly notes that physicians who are not themselves physically fit can still recommend a healthy lifestyle to their patients, using their own experiences to relate to patients’ struggles. “It’s really important that we take that time to counsel patients about how their health habits influence their lives at each visit, and that we look at that as important as any medication,” she says.

What do you think? Does your doctor discuss healthy lifestyles with you? If you’re a health care provider, do you raise the subject with your patients? Register below to leave a comment.

Read a related blog post by Rashawn Ray, PhD, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Scholar in Health Policy Research.

Jan 3 2012

Physical Activity is Essential


As we head into 2012, the Human Capital Blog asked Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) staff, program directors, scholars and grantees to share their New Year’s resolutions for our health care system, and what they think should be the priorities for action in the New Year. This post is by by Rashawn Ray, PhD, RWJF Scholar in Health Policy Research, University of California, Berkeley.

My New Year's resolution for the United States health care system is to more systematically include physical activity to get people moving to a healthier lifestyle. The health care system is more than markets and insurance. It includes prevention, maintenance and community resources to get people healthy and keep them that way. Physical activity is one key way to accomplish these goals.


Physical activity increases life expectancy, reduces the likelihood of obesity, some cancers, and chronic diseases (e.g., type-2 diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease), improves self-rated health, mental health and quality of life, enhances productivity at work, helps maintain full functioning and independence among the elderly, and decreases the costs of late life care.

Despite these benefits, 60 percent of adults do not engage in the recommended amount of physical activity, which is at least 30 minutes per day, five times per week. Like other outcomes, there is a racial difference in who attains the recommended amount of physical activity. Roughly 50 percent of blacks are physically inactive, compared to one-third of whites. These percentages correspond to the percentage of individuals who are obese.

Read more