Category Archives: Physical activity
With research indicating that fewer children are walking or biking to school than in decades past—and with the childhood obesity epidemic in full swing—health experts have been brainstorming solutions that would address both issues. In recent years, a simple but effective concept has been gaining traction at the grass-roots level: Why not organize a “Walking School Bus”—a group of kids who walk to school with one or more adults, so that kids can get exercise on their way to and from school?
A Walking School Bus is “just like a regular school bus, but without the walls and seats, and instead of wheels, we use our feet,” explained LeeAnne Fergason, education director for the Bicycle Transportation Alliance in Portland, Ore., which has a thriving Walking School Bus program. Other communities around the country that have well-established Walking School Bus programs include Chapel Hill, N.C.; Sacramento, Calif.; Burlington, Vt.; Columbia, Mo.; and Duluth, Ga. In the Fall of 2014, many more schools—including Grand View Elementary in Manhattan Beach, Calif.; Greenacres Elementary in Scarsdale, N.Y.; Madison Elementary in Redondo Beach, Calif.; and several elementary schools in Spokane, Wash.—will be joining the trend.
Created by the National Center for Safe Routes to School, these programs help kids sneak some extra physical activity into their day while also addressing parents’ concerns about getting their kids to school safely. It can be as simple as a few neighborhood families taking turns walking their kids to school. Or it can be more elaborate, with prearranged routes, timetables and stops along the way to pick up more “passengers”; with this model, there’s usually an adult “driver” at the front and an adult “conductor” bringing up the rear. A variation on this theme, the bicycle train, in which two or more adults accompany and supervise kids as they ride their bikes to school, has also become popular.
Viewed as a way to fight childhood obesity, improve school attendance rates and ensure that kids get to school safely, the Walking School Bus concept is garnering positive reviews from public health experts. In July 2013, Michelle Obama voiced her support of these programs in her remarks to mayors gathered at the White House.
“I've heard more and more of this kind of walking school bus happening all over the country—so that kids can get exercise on the way to school, kind of like we did when we were growing up," she said. “It’s about people all across this country coming together to take action to support the health of our kids.”
Besides providing an opportunity for movement, the Walking School Bus also allows kids to socialize with their peers, gain a bit of independence and learn important road safety skills. All of these benefits are also important for children’s health and wellbeing.
Harold W. “Bill” Kohl, PhD, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Texas School of Public Health is in the midst of a three-year appointment to the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition (PCFSN) Science Board. Kohl’s role is to provide recommendations in the areas of program development and evaluation, which is critical to the Council’s mission to engage, educate and empower all Americans across to adopt a healthy lifestyle that includes regular physical activity and good nutrition. During his time at the School of Public Health, Kohl has been researching effective uses of social networking to create demand for healthy lifestyles among youth and working with organizations to promote disease prevention, physical activity and exercise as a health priority.
NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Kohl about the work of the President’s Council.
NewPublicHealth: Is the current mission of the President’s Council different than it was in the past?
Bill Kohl: There has been a shift. The President’s Council started in the 1950s as the result of a small study that suggested that American kids are not as fit as kids in Eastern bloc countries—Russia, primarily. The President’s Council started under President Eisenhower and then President Kennedy’s administrating sought to increase kids’ fitness by doing fitness testing in schools and promoting physical activity and physical education.
That wound its way through the ‘60s and ‘70s. Then in the ‘80s there was a much bigger rush to health-related physical fitness rather than skill-related fitness activities—things that you can actually change and that are related to health outcomes compared to fitness skills you might be born with, such as the ability to run a 50-yard dash.
Then, most recently, the Council has included nutrition in his mission and been renamed.
NPH: How does your background inform your new role?
Kohl: As chair of the science board, my job is to make sure that the President’s Council has the most up-to-date science that’s relevant to its mission and advancing initiatives that are evidence-based.
Late last month, the Bipartisan Policy Center, a think tank based in Washington, D.C., released a new white paper, Teaching Nutrition and Physical Activity in Medical School: Training Doctors for Prevention-Oriented Care, that strongly recommends providing greater training in nutrition and physical activity for medical students and physicians in order to help reduce U.S. obesity rates. The report was jointly published with the American College of Sports Medicine and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a nonprofit founded by the American Heart Association and the Clinton Foundation as a response to the growing rate of childhood obesity. The report found that current training for medical professionals and students in nutrition and exercise is inadequate to cope with the nation’s obesity epidemic.
A survey conducted for the new report found that more than 75 percent of physicians felt they had received inadequate training to be able to counsel their patients on changing diet and increasing activity levels. It also found that while some schools have stepped up their performance, fewer than 30 percent of medical schools meet the minimum number of hours of education in nutrition and exercise science recommended by the National Academy of Sciences.
“The health care marketplace needs to place greater value on preventive care,” said Jim Whitehead, Chief Executive Officer and Executive Vice President of the American College of Sports Medicine. “Doing so will provide medical schools with the incentive to train their students accordingly. And it will give medical professionals the leverage they need to address healthy lifestyles with their patients.”
NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Lisel Loy, director of the Nutrition and Physical Activity Initiative at the Bipartisan Policy Center, about the report and about how to improve training for medical professionals on nutrition and exercise.
NPH: What was the idea that propelled you to look into making changing to medical school education?
Loy: Well, the technical launching pad was our June 2012 policy report called Lots to Lose: How America’s Health and Obesity Crisis Threatens our Economic Future. And in that, my four co-chairs recommended a suite of policy changes that would improve health outcomes and lower costs for families, communities, schools and work sites. Within that community context they called out the need to improve training for health professionals—not just physicians but health professionals much more broadly defined than that—in pursuit of the goal of reducing obesity and chronic disease and cutting costs.
So that’s sort of the technical answer to your question. The more philosophical answer is as we as a country shift toward more preventive care, they really saw a gap in the education and training of health professionals in terms of being able to best support improved health outcomes. So that’s how they determined that that belonged in our report as a policy recommendation, and since we put out that report we prioritized a handful of recommendations, one of which had to do with health professional training.
More than half of youths in the United States have access to parks or playground areas; recreation centers; boys’ and girls’ clubs; and walking paths or sidewalks in their neighborhoods, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), State Indicator Report on Physical Activity, 2014.
While that information might conjure up images of newly built, dedicated playgrounds, the reality is different...and less expensive. Thousands of communities have created physical activity opportunities by developing shared use agreements with schools to allow the use of facilities after school hours and on weekends.
In 2011, for example, the nonprofit Partners for Active Living (PAL), in Spartanburg, S.C., met with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department and learned that while the city did have access to defunct school facilities, it had no shared use agreements that would let PAL use school facilities for exercise. With help from a board member (who was also a member of the city council) and online resources for shared use agreements, PAL was able to move the concept forward by showing that:
- Under South Carolina law, school districts and third parties would be protected under the recreational user statute.
- The South Carolina Tort Claims Act imposes the same liabilities and protections both during and after the school day.
- The school district may be liable for negligent supervision of a student only if a duty is executed in a grossly negligent manner.
After about a year of discussions with parents, activists, policymakers, school officials and others, agreements were worked out in 2012 for school soccer fields, basketball courts, trails, playgrounds and football fields to remain open to the community on weekends and from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on non-school days and after school until 6 p.m. on school days, with supervision by the Parks and Recreation Department to deal with damage, vandalism and other concerns. The agreement is automatically renewed every five years unless amended. To promote the continued usage of school playgrounds, the department will offer regularly scheduled programming at each site and PAL will be tracking usage.
In the wake of disasters communities often share stories of resiliency, not just to show how far they have come, but to model for others the critical need for an infrastructure of planning and preparedness when disaster hits. When the bombs went off at the Boston Marathon last year, Achilles International, a non-profit group that pairs able-bodied runners with disabled people, already had a chapter in place in the Boston area.
The group reached out using social media, as well as bright yellow banners and shirts during twice-weekly training sessions along the Charles River, to help attract attention and encourage Bostonian volunteers and potential athletes to join up. One survivor did. Thirty-one-year old Mery Daniel, a single mother of a five-year-old, who is close to completing her medical boards to become a general practitioner physician, lost one leg and suffered damage to the other during the blast. She joined up with Achilles and ran its 5K Hope and Possibility race—her first race ever—using a hand cycle last June.
The community rallying around the Boston Marathon over the last year has resulted in several new competitors joining up to compete in the Boston Marathon. A team of thirty differently abled Achilles runners, each with at least one guide for the race, will be wearing yellow Achilles shirts in today’s marathon. Their disabilities—ranging from Dwarfism and scoliosis to visual impairment—have not held them back.
“The stories about the survivors’ recoveries brought attention to the fact that people with disabilities have opportunities to do things they enjoy and learn new skills,” said Eleanor Cox, director of chapter development for Achilles. “So when the chapter put extra effort this past year into outreach through social media, word of mouth and the bright yellow banners on the Charles—matched up with people wanting to volunteer and people with disabilities wondering what was possible—it turned a previously quieter Achilles chapter into a strong one. Boston Strong.”
>>Bonus Link: Read more from Boston Marathon Survivor Adrianne Haslet-Davis on Recovery, Care, and Collaboration on the RWJF Culture of Health blog.
Why walk? Well, today’s a good day to walk because it’s National Walking Day, an event hosted by the American Heart Association (AHA). And also every day is a good day to walk because research from the AHA finds that thirty minutes of walking each day had health benefits that include:
- Weight loss
- Lower blood pressure
- Reduced risk of heart disease and diabetes
- Increased well being
Walking, like other forms of exercise, releases endorphins linked to reduced depression and increased happiness—which certainly seems to be the case for the folks in the video PSA, Just Walk!, from the American Heart Association.
- National Walking Day
- 2013 Vital Signs report on the benefits of walking from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
“College is certainly a different experience today than it was in my day,” said an audience participant at a panel discussion late last week on campus health initiatives at the Partnership for a Healthier America summit in Washington, D.C. The partnership is a nonprofit that includes health leaders working on childhood obesity issues.
The college health panel, moderated by former U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, who is the president of the University of Miami and co-chair of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Initiative, included Lynn R. Goldman, dean of the George Washington School of Public Health and Health Services; Beverly Daniel Tatum, president of Spelman College, a historically Black college in Atlanta; and Michael Goldstein, Associate Vice-Provost for the Healthy Campus Initiative, at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
A driving force behind health and wellness improvement initiatives on campus—including bike and walking paths, more staircases and smoking bans—is the opportunity to help students make changes that will last their lifetimes.
- At Spelman several years ago, Tatum canceled the schools’ competitive sports program—which was benefitting less than 5 percent of the 2,000-person student body—and replaced it with a “wellness revolution.” The campus-wide programs include “Body Fat Tuesday” weekly checks, new exercise equipment and a “PE for life” initiative that includes integrating such things as lunges and squats for students waiting for tennis courts to encourage greater physical activity.
- Changes at UCLA include a new restaurant, the Bruin Plate. Entrees—none more than 400 calories each—include root-vegetable tagine; a red-quinoa-and-sweet-potato burger with pineapple salsa; and chicken with dates, polenta and spinach. Side dishes have no more than 200 calories each and there are no French fries, traditional desserts, cured meats or heavily processed foods. The restaurant serves only calorie-free sodas and house-made infused waters with flavors such as pineapple-mango-hibiscus, vanilla-peach and butternut squash. Desserts have been overhauled and include seasonal fruit with balsamic sauces and lower-calorie quick breads.
- Changes on the George Washington University campus, which is just blocks from the White House, include indoor and outdoor bike racks, four bike rental stations, widened pathways and changes at the Food Court to include many healthier options. Goldman says that since the school is in the middle of the city, rather than a closed campus, many of the changes were also aimed at benefitting the community residents.
“A lot has changed since campuses were filled with cigarette smoke and offered just a single dining hall with a set menu,” said Shalala. “We have a captive audience, and campuses are good places to learn healthy habits.” Recent changes at the University of Miami include more visible staircases and signage pointing to the stairs; widened walkways for walking and biking; bike repair stations; outdoor fitness equipment; and farmer’s markets.
Texting while walking can have a way of changing where we go...such as into a tree trunk or a fountain. However, a recent study in the journal PLOS ONE finds that texting also dramatically changes how we walk.
Researchers from the University of Queensland in Australia analyzed 26 health people while walking normally, while reading texts on a cell phone, and while writing a text themselves. They looked at speed and gait, as well as the positions of their heads, torso and arms.
They found that, essentially, when we walk and text we walk in a way that makes texting easier. That focus has a significant impact on our movements, which limits the health benefits of the physical activity.
“We walk much slower when handling a cell phone (even moreso while texting than reading), and we're not very good at sticking to a straight line. Not surprisingly, we tend to keep our heads down, our necks immobile, and our arms locked at our sides. We don't swing our arms, which can be a crucial part of staying balanced while moving.”
Read more at Atlantic Cities.
Recommended Reading: As 2014 Begins, the Stanford Football Team is an Exercise Model for the Rest of Us
As the new year begins, the United States is awash in millions of people resolved to go to the gym, run many miles every day, blow the dust off the treadmill in the basement and park yards away from the office front door. But a recent article in The New York Times on the exercise regimen of the Stanford University football team finds that slow and steady, rather than extreme, may be the effective approach toward injury-reduced, successful exercise.
While Stanford lost its Rose Bowl game against Michigan State yesterday, the team’s players have ended the season ahead of many of their competitors in injuries avoided and games missed. What’s different at Stanford is a training regimen by Conditioning Coach Sean Turley, which focuses on each player’s abilities and the muscles and strength they need most to prevent injuries, as well as get their own jobs done on the football field.
The Times reports that from 2006, the year before Turley arrived at Stanford, through last season, the number of games missed because of injury dropped by 87 percent. In 2012, only two players required season-ending or postseason surgical repair, and this year only one did. “For the subtle art of injury prevention, the [Stanford football players] stretch and stretch and stretch. They stretch before and after lifts and before and after practice. They stretch for fun.”
And think again if you think that’s just a regimen needed for elite football players. “These are things that you do for Grandma and Grandpa,” says a Stanford yoga instructor who helps train the team.
>>Bonus Link: Read a U.S. Food and Drug Administration update reminding consumers that, despite advertising they may have seen, dietary supplements cannot prevent concussions.
HUD to Grant Millions in Rental Assistance for Senior Housing Developments
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has announced $14.8 million to preserve affordable rental assistance for elderly tenants living in subsidized properties. This funding is provided through HUD’s Senior Preservation Rental Assistance Contracts and is targeted for properties in HUD’s “Supportive Housing for the Elderly” program, where rental assistance may expire without the new funding. Read more on aging.
U.S. Forest Service Will Waive Some Recreation Fees Five Times in 2014
The U.S. Forest Service will waive fees at most of its day-use recreation sites on: Jan. 20, 2014, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day; President's Day weekend Feb. 15-17; National Get Outdoors Day on June 14; National Public Lands Day on Sept. 27; and Veterans Day weekend from Nov. 8 to 11.
Get Outdoors Days helps to raise awareness that nature encourages healthy, active outdoor fun. In addition to waiving fees, various Forest Service units participate in a variety of public events on agency lands and in nearby cities and towns. Public Lands Day is the nation's largest, single-day volunteer effort in support of public lands. Agency units plan their own events, which range from educational programs to trash pick-up to building trails.
National forests and grasslands include more than 150,000 miles of trails, which include hiking, biking, equestrian and motorized trails, and more than 10,000 developed recreation sites, as well as 57,000 miles of streams, 122 alpine ski areas, 338,000 heritage sites, 9,100 miles of National Scenic Byways, 22 National Recreation Areas, 11 National Scenic Areas, seven National Monuments, one national preserve and one national heritage area.
Many sites are already free; fees that could be waived under the program include picnic grounds and admission to visitor centers. Read more on physical activity.
Healthier Holiday Ideas from the USDA
As its holiday gift, the U.S. Department of Agriculture offers some healthy tweaks for consumers to help make holiday celebrations healthier including ideas for lighter cocktail fare, lower sugar and lower fat recipes for baked goods, and gift-giving ideas that focus on physical activity. Read more on obesity.