Policy Corner: ACSM Convenes Think Tank to Chart Roadmap on Addressing Health Disparities

Leaders from across the health science community met in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 2 to focus on collective strategies for reducing racial and ethnic health disparities and improving health equity. The day-long meeting featured representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the National Indian Health Board, and more than a dozen other leading national health organizations. The output of these discussions will fuel development of a National Roadmap on Reducing Health Disparities Through Lifestyle Behavior Change under ACSM auspices over the coming weeks.

ACSM President Barbara Ainsworth, Ph.D., FACSM, chaired the distinguished panel of participants, kicking off the day of discussions by stressing the need for effective partnerships to improve health equity. “The challenge of improving health equity is quite simply too large for any of us to accomplish alone,” she said. “We have to find a way to focus our efforts on what really counts.”

Senior CDC Scientist David Brown gave a detailed presentation on CDC data collection effort on health disparities across a variety of population groups with a special focus on childhood obesity. He stressed the need for a data-driven approach. “Our first principle must be to ensure we are not making things worse, whatever our intentions, by building solutions based on empirical evidence,” said Brown, who also proudly added that he had been an ACSM member since 1980, which was a much longer timespan than most data on health disparities.

The group also was joined by staffers for U.S. Representatives Ron Kind (D-WI) and Marcia Fudge (D-OH), who gave an update on the activities of the House Fitness Caucus, which Kind co-chairs. The Fitness Caucus has focused much of its efforts on the FIT Kids Act, which would require that CDC and other U.S. Department of Health and Human Services agencies collect more and better-quality data on health disparities.

The group will produce a National Roadmap focusing on lifestyle behaviors, recognizing and considering other important factors—including the economic and social environment—that contribute to racial/ethnic health disparities. The National Roadmap may lead to a larger conference in 2012 at which key stakeholder groups will convene to inform, guide, and translate the Roadmap into specific action steps for which they have ownership and accountability.