Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation published their annual obesity report and results weren’t the positive news everyone was hoping for. The State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America reported increases in rates of adult obesity in six U.S. states and decreases in none. The data showed that in a record setting number of states (20), at least 30 percent of adults are obese. Even more troubling were the demographic disparities that the report identified in racial and ethnic minorities, income status and even generational divides. Americans are still very much at risk for diseases that are costly and preventable.
Though the data isn’t pretty, what is hopeful is the call-to-action coming from the report, as it underscored the need to integrate healthcare services provided both within and outside the traditional clinic walls. Policy recommendations from public health experts in diverse communities around the country all carried a common theme: the need for new health system approaches that connect the clinic to the outside community as a whole. The potential for health and fitness professionals to be a part of the solution to a major public health challenge has never been more promising.
At ACE, we were thrilled to see the alignment the report has with our organization mission and advocacy efforts. Though our health and fitness professionals would seem to be an obvious resource to tackling this persistent problem, they have not often been part of the conversation. Recognition of the knowledge, skills and abilities of health and fitness professionals by policymakers and other health professions opens the door of opportunity for a more significant role in improving the health status of all Americans. Among the policy recommendations were several that fit perfectly into the wheelhouse of the work we are doing to advance the profession.
Of particular interest were recommendations around the need to develop strategies with community leaders on joint-use agreements to allow more individuals for better access to physical activity programs and opportunities. ACE policy staff has been working hard to urge government officials to advance public policies that open parks and other publically owned spaces to professionally led physical activity and promote engagement in such programs. We believe it is a low-cost, high impact way for municipal and community leaders to invest in healthier communities, especially in places where resources are lacking or underutilized. Qualified health and fitness professionals should become well-informed and prepared to participate in our advocacy efforts. For more on ACE’s thoughts on maximizing safety, utility, preservation and enjoyment of community resources for all users check out our Shared-Use Best Practices Guidelines for Policymakers and Fitness Professionals.
The State of Obesity report also called on policymakers to implement measures that increase access to and use of individuals such as fitness professionals and health coaches who can reach their community and play an important role in facilitating health and prevention-related activities such as behavior change and physical activity. ACE also sees this need and is advocating for public policies that recognize well-qualified health and fitness professionals as part of the healthcare continuum who are equipped to deliver programs and interventions for the prevention and treatment of lifestyle diseases. To view our full position statement, click here.
Opportunity to become part of an ever-changing healthcare system is underway. We applaud the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for helping to lead the charge. Staying informed and educated on what is happening in our space is one way to help advance these efforts and become a larger, more unified voice of change. Please sign up for ACE advocacy updates here.