Focus on Physical Activity at the IOM Workshop on Obesity Solutions

RWJF's Active Living Research Initiative is Moving the Field Forward

An early highlight of 2014 was the inauguration of the Institute of Medicine Roundtable on Obesity Solutions, held in Washington, D.C. on January 7-8, 2014.

The primary goal of the Roundtable is to accelerate implementation of cross-sectoral and evidence-based solutions to obesity, many of which were identified by the prior Standing Committee on Childhood Obesity Prevention. Although the main focus is on promoting physical activity and healthy eating among children and youth, the Roundtable’s charge extends to interventions  for adults, families and communities as well.    

The first Roundtable workshop, which took place on January 7, summarized the status of knowledge and action in the six intervention settings prioritized in the 2012 IOM Report, Accelerating Progress in Obesity Prevention, with the goal of identifying priorities for future research and action. These settings included: (1) schools, (2) child care and early education, (3) community, (4) work sites, (5) marketing, and (6) health care. Each panel featured balanced presentations by a physical activity and diet/nutrition expert so that both sides of the “energy balance” equation were addressed. Physical activity experts taking part in the Roundtable represented national organizations, including the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Active Living Research (ALR) national program, the American Council on Exercise, the American College of Sports Medicine, the National Physical Activity Plan, and the President's Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition.

We were struck throughout the day by the strong consensus across all panels and speakers—not just those representing the physical activity-focused groups listed above—that the potential of physical activity in obesity prevention has not yet been realized. Dr. Christina Economos of Child Obesity 180 reminded us school physical activity is...

the only proven opportunity to deliver school-wide high quality moderate to vigorous physical activity,” but "schools should do much more" to provide students with physical activity. Encouragingly, “educators and parents recognize the need to get kids up and moving and aren’t waiting for someone else to make it happen.”

Other speakers had similarly forceful endorsements that more emphasis on implementing evidence-based physical activity interventions in all settings is needed to prevent obesity, improve the health of those who are obese, and reduce disparities in access to physical activity opportunities.

Marion Standish, of The California Endowment, emphasized the importance of policy as a tool to increase physical activity, but lamented a weakness of policy approaches:

We have many good policies but they are completely unenforceable; physical activity being one of them where we have been challenged for years in trying to enforce physical activity regulations at the local level.”  

Loel Solomon, of Kaiser Permanente, reported broad adoption of "exercise as a vital sign" by providers in their system. Simply asking about physical activity on a regular basis is leading to conversations between physicians and patients, which are stimulating more physical activity.

This workshop focused on the need to assure that everyone in America has access to safe places to walk, bike, play, and be physically active by engaging multiple sectors and emphasizing far-reaching environmental and policy interventions that leave no neighborhood, community or population behind. Workshop speakers made it clear that we have sufficient evidence to act now to apply what we know to improving physical activity. In short, this IOM workshop generated new enthusiasm for achieving the potential of physical activity to improve health, and speakers made it clear this will require every sector of society and all organizations to consider how they can positively affect health through physical activity.


Tracking ALR's Progress

Since 2001, Active Living Research projects have generated evidence about policy and environmental factors that can increase physical activity among children, and have used that evidence to inform policy, advocacy, and practice.

Read the Progress Report