Be Active Your Way Blog
Tom is the Senior Manager of Public Policy for IHRSA, a nonprofit trade/advocacy group for fitness centers. As IHRSA’s Washington staff member, Tom coordinates IHRSA’s outreach to leading organizations and government agencies - such as HHS and the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, the National Coalition for Promoting Physical Activity, the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease, Exercise is Medicine, the Campaign to End Obesity, the National Physical Activity Plan and others - to highlight the importance of physical activity to America’s health. In 2009 and beyond, Tom looks forward to advancing IHRSA’s support for policies and programs that increase the number of physically active Americans.
This past month, the President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition (PCFSN) unveiled its new Presidential Youth Fitness Program. At first blush, it may seem like simply an update of the youth test familiar to generations of Americans. But that impression would represent a profound misunderstanding of the intent and content of the new test.
In fact, the Presidential Youth Fitness Program marks a fundamental shift in our national discourse on youth fitness.
As described in the PCFSN program materials, "The Presidential Youth Fitness Program places emphasis on the value of living a physically active and healthy lifestyle - in school and beyond."
Furthermore, Dr. Jayne Greenberg, a member of the PCFSN and school district administrator in Miami-Dade County Public Schools, notes that the program will "focus primarily on assessing health versus athleticism for America's youth."
So, basically, the test is no longer a tool for determining which kids won the athletic gene pool lottery. Now it's about assessing and tracking the health of American children. We at IHRSA wholeheartedly, unequivocally, and most enthusiastically applaud this new approach.
The need for this new test is urgent. While we celebrate the launch of the test, policymakers must also grapple with the "F as in Fat Report" released this month by the Trust for America's Health, which suggests that adult obesity rates could reach 60% in 13 states by 2030. All 50 states, according to the report, could experience obesity rates over 44% within 20 years.
We know that the causes of sedentary, unhealthy behaviors are varied and highly individualized, but surely the stigmatization of being labeled "unathletic" at an early age lingers destructively for many older Americans. In this new era of the Presidential Youth Fitness Program, young Americans will learn that physical activity is more than just a pull-up test or rope climb. They will learn that it's a gateway to a happier, healthier, and more productive life, regardless of one's ability to complete 60 sit-ups in one minute.
At IHRSA, we are committed to elevating and celebrating the best health club-based youth programs.
In a recent segment of IHRSA's "Ask an Industry Leader" series, we asked, "In a time when childhood obesity is at the forefront, what are good strategies for children/teen programming to get youth in my community more active and engaged in the club?"
Bill Parisi, Founder and CEO of Parisi Speed School, responded:
Youth fitness is all about motivation and engagement. Kids are noth thinking health and longevity, they want to have fun, be competitive, and most importantly, be accepted by their peers." [I also encourage clubs to] make your program inviting to the non-athlete by hiring staff who truly loves kids. The program itself does not have to be overly complicated, but it should be professional. You should have a respected youth performance brand, credible staff, and an environment that is motivating and professional.
What are some other successful strategies for creating effective youth programming?
Tags: physical activity, schools, Presidential Youth Fitness Program
Childhood Obesity | Schools
In his book, Microtrends, famed pollster Mark Penn concludes, “The power of individual choice has never been greater, and the reasons and patterns for those choices never harder to understand and analyze. The skill of microtargeting—identifying small, intense subgroups and communicating with them about their individual needs and wants—has never been more critical in marketing or in political campaigns.”
Penn identifies these subgroups as “microtrends,” which he describes as “an intense identity group, that is growing, which has needs and wants unmet by the current crop of companies, marketers, policymakers, and others who would influence society’s behavior.”
The concept of microtrends naturally makes me wonder: Are there microtrends in America that could, if fully appreciated by fitness marketers and programmers, decrease the high rates of leisure-time inactivity of Americans? Below, I’ve created a list of three possible microtrends that may be under leveraged by fitness advocates. The list is surely not exhaustive and each subgroup is already the target of some form of outreach, but my sense is that more could be done for these groups.
What do you think? Can more be done to target these subgroups? What are some other microtrends that could impact physical activity levels of Americans?
Primary Care Physicians Prescribing Exercise
In nearly every community in America, primary care physicians serve on the front lines in the battle against obesity, inactivity, and chronic disease management. And their influence is growing. Health system experts suggest that changes to the American health care system will require the hiring of 30,000 additional primary care physicians by 2015. Concurrently, influential health system thought leaders, such as Dr. Edward Phillips of the Institute of Lifestyle Medicine, have arranged events such as “White Coats, White Sneakers” to encourage more physicians to lead healthier lives. “The idea is to let the heath care providers set the pace,” says Dr. Phillips, “and let us encourage not just by asking or pointing or cajoling, but by saying ‘I’m making a change, follow me.’” These developments suggest that investing in the recruitment of a primary care physician to become more physically active may have wide benefits for the community.
I would argue that despite all the attention around “senior fitness,” individuals over 65 are still vastly under appreciated as a market, but here I am suggesting specifically “grandparents.” The vast majority of grandparents seem to perceive their grandchildren as deep and profound inspirations for vitality. Creative programming for this subgroup could focus, for example, on the physical capabilities necessary to keep up with a toddler, splash around with a preschooler, and/or cradle a newborn while standing or walking.
Individuals Diagnosed With Depression
According to Mental Health America, more than 19 million Americans suffer from depression each year and research indicates that exercise eases the symptoms of depression and anxiety. Sadly, many sufferers feel compelled to keep their condition private, which may prevent them from obtaining the necessary help. Clearly, however, there is a greater need for outreach to Americans diagnosed or suffering from depression.
What are some other microtrends that could impact the physical activity rates of Americans?
Tags: Creative Programming, Marketing, Physical Activity
Last week’s entry, “Healthy Choices Require Healthy Options,” articulated well the “need to make the healthy choice the easy choice by ensuring that our communities have adequate opportunities for children, families and adults to engage in healthy behaviors in all of the places where they live, work, learn, and play.” Those opportunities include pedestrian/biker friendly streets, safe parks and playgrounds, and paths for walking and biking. At workplaces, employers may provide a cardio break room, a health club membership subsidy, or safe walking paths.
But providing healthy options is only part of the solution for changing behavior.
Once you’ve provided a healthy option, you then have to convince folks to actually choose the healthy option.
There are “nudges,” of course, that make the healthy choice the more likely choice, such as making the healthy option the default option or making the healthy option less expensive than the alternative. Nudges work well when a choice between two or more similar actions is required (e.g. what to buy for lunch at a work cafeteria). But nudges aren’t as effective for a problem like physical activity where an individual typically chooses between moving and not moving, rather than choosing between two or more types of activity.
There is emerging evidence, however, that social networks and cultural norms play a powerful role in our decision to be physically active. For example, when the people around us are trying to lose weight, we may be more likely to try to lose weight. And, conversely, research suggests that obesity can also spread through social circles.
In the fitness industry, this social phenomenon is evidenced by the growing popularity of “small group” personal training, which ranks #5 on IHRSA’s Top Health Club Trends for 2012. The small group sessions create supportive networks of people who motivate one another and keep each other accountable. Perhaps, more importantly, the small groups create micro-cultures of health that encourage individuals to be physically active as a means to conform to the social norm of the culture.
A similar dynamic can play out at worksites that embrace the benefits of physical activity. A recent study of a physical activity-based wellness program implemented at New Balance corporate offices found that “53 percent [of survey respondents] said they increased their level of physical activity and movement at work.” As explained by New Balance, "[the] program enhanced our workplace environment by engaging our associates to collaborate in new ways to increase their energy and focus levels."
On an even larger scale, the Oklahoma City mayor, Mick Cornett, has built a healthier community by changing the city’s social norms with his “This City is Going on a Diet” initiative, which reached its goal of losing, collectively, 1 million lbs.
Once a community has created healthy options, what are some ways that community leaders can harness the power of social networks and cultural norms to entice folks to make the healthy choice?
Tags: Obesity, Employee Wellness, Social Networks
This page last updated on: 11/04/2009
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