Active Voice: Surgeon General Fuels ACSM Member Call to Action!

By Dr. Carol Ewing Garber

Viewpoints presented in SMB commentaries reflect opinions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect positions or policies of ACSM.

ACSM President Carol Ewing Garber, Ph.D., FACSM, RCEP, is the Director of the Graduate Program in Applied Physiology and the Applied Physiology Laboratory at Teachers College, Columbia University, where she is proud to follow in the footsteps of ACSM Founder, Dr. Josephine Rathbone.

Today’s commentary is Part 1 of a two-part series. Check next week’s SMB for Part 2.

Along with a number of fellow members, I came away energized and inspired when U.S. Acting Surgeon General RADM Boris Lushniak made a special visit to the 60th ACSM Annual Meeting in Orlando May 30. ACSM members and RADM Lushniak engaged in lively discussions about the crisis of physical inactivity and its substantial impact on the nation’s health, economy and the well-being of its citizens. RADM Lushniak made an immediate connection with us when he boldly declared that “Physical inactivity is the major public health issue in this country.”

During dialogue sessions before and after Lushniak’s presentation, ACSM members mentioned that physical inactivity is a serious health problem because of its high prevalence combined with its associated disease-specific mortality and morbidity. Past President Dr. Steven Blair pointed to data presented at the meeting estimating that physical inactivity contributes to 5 billion deaths per year across the globe. RADM Lushniak said we have “regressed as humans from doing what we are meant to be doing—moving.” He went on to suggest that a more effective public health strategy may be to make things easier for people by providing simple messages about physical activity. “Walking is something that most people can do,” he said. “And they don’t need expensive shoes or have to pay for a gym to do it.”

RADM Lushniak then charged ACSM to help him carry our mutual vision to the local level. As members and leaders, we can all influence our communities to address the problem of physical inactivity by partnering with the government to promote prevention efforts to individuals. “Health and wellness are a national treasure,” continued Lushniak. “And “physical activity is one of the most important things a person can do for improved health.” He reminded us that we are role models that need to “walk the walk and talk the talk,” and if we all work together, we can meet the nation’s health goals. RADM Lushniak concluded by hinting that a major call to action would be coming from his office later in the year and called upon ACSM members to be ready to mobilize in support of the effort.

The acting surgeon general’s visit created a lot of “buzz” after he departed. Dr. Bob Sallis, ACSM past president and leader of Exercise is Medicine stated, "I think the surgeon general's talk was historic because he stated quite clearly that, in his opinion, physical inactivity was the major public health issue in this country. If America's top doctor feels this way, then how could any physician not be assessing and prescribing exercise to their patients?" Dr. Russ Pate was pleased that the key message of the day aligned with a number of fitness initiatives, including the National Physical Activity Plan (NPAP). “RADM Lushniak’s powerful comments regarding the impact of physical activity on public health indicate that he shares the NPAP’s vision for a day when all Americans are physically active because they live, work and play in environments that encourage them to be so.”

As ASCM president, I share my colleagues’ enthusiasm regarding our shared vision with the surgeon general and what is possible for us moving forward. ACSM is uniquely positioned to partner with the surgeon general’s office because of our large national and international membership of scientists, clinicians and health and fitness practitioners, our professional and public information programs, and our extensive networks of regional chapters, affiliate societies and collaborations with many other organizations. As Janet Rankin observed, “The passionate conviction of the nation’s highest ranking physician confirms that ACSM is on the right trajectory in its efforts to bring attention and action to promoting physical activity as a key solution to the nation’s health crisis.

So RADM Lushniak, ACSM members are reporting for duty—we’re walking, and we are ready for action, Sir!”

Be watching for Part 2 of this article and ways you can join the physical activity social movement in next week’s issue of Sports Medicine Bulletin.