Policy Corner: ACSM's Seat at the Table

While the ACSM National Center and its exceptional staff have been located in Indianapolis since 1984, the heart of the College is at work in laboratories, classrooms and clinics around the world. One important nexus is Washington, DC, where policy makers, thought leaders and association executives are as plentiful as the cherry blossoms at springtime.

Jim Whitehead, executive vice president of ACSM, is a familiar presence in Washington, both on Capitol Hill and at meetings of the many coalitions and associations concerned with health policy and advocacy. SMB caught up with him after a trifecta of meetings in the nation’s capital.

SMB: Jim, you had three events last week that point up ACSM’s mission and influence. Briefly, what drew you to Washington, DC, last week?
JW: Last week was a pivotal one for health promotion and disease prevention in the U.S. First was the Weight of the Nation conference, staged by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This was only the second such conference that CDC has organized on this vital public health issue. I had the pleasure of serving on the planning committee for Weight of the Nation, amid excellent colleagues dedicated to ensuring that physical activity played a highly prominent role in the meeting. I also served on the Weight of the Nation awards committee that recognized extraordinary contributions by organizations and individuals to promote healthy lifestyles and to combat obesity and related chronic diseases. There, too we took steps to ensure that champions of physical activity were included among the awardees. I was pleased to see James Sallis, Ph.D., FACSM accept a Pioneering Innovation Award on behalf of Active Living Research. Another longtime champion of healthy lifestyles, Antronette Yancey, M.D., was lauded for creating the Instant Recess program.

SMB: Didn’t the National Society of Physical Activity Practitioners in Public Health also meet in Washington last week?
JW: Yes—in the same hotel, following Weight of the Nation. I had the pleasure of attending that annual conference as well, whose theme was Public Health Physical Activity: Everywhere for Everyone. ACSM partners with NSPAPPH on programs such as Childhood Obesity Awareness Month each September and a joint certification program. The Physical Activity in Public Health Practitioner is a new category of professional that will play an increasingly important role in increasing health in the U.S. The NSPAPPH meeting had seminal presentations on issues as diverse as transportation and school health. We found great value in sharing best practices and strategies—what’s happening in states and communities. NSPAPPH members’ occupations run the gamut from educators and planners to nutritionists and recreation officials and many move. They work in diverse settings in the public and private sectors. NSPAPPH has grown exponentially in membership. That and the quality of this year’s conference reflect in large part the accomplishments of Jimmy Newkirk, who just celebrated one year on the job as executive director.

SMB: Okay, that’s two big events for the week. What else was on your plate last week?
JW: I also participated in a meeting at the White House focusing on priorities among national strategies for promoting physical activity and health. That was a private meeting of 9 invited leaders from the public, private and nonprofit sectors.

SMB: Let’s Move! is, of course, the First Lady’s initiative to encourage healthy lifestyles. How does that tie in with Exercise is Medicine?
JW: Both initiatives recognize the importance of physical activity to health. Let’s Move! concentrates on physical activity particularly in regard to weight management and obesity. EIM—which seeks to make physical activity part of everyone’s health care plan—includes a focus on obesity and chronic conditions. Beyond weight management, that involves cardiovascular health, prevention of diabetes, and many others. Especially during May, which is Exercise is Medicine Month, it was appropriate to represent the EIM philosophy in an array of meetings that included leaders of Let’s Move! and other initiatives. We are planning now for powerful collaboration the months and years ahead.

SMB: Weight of the Nation drew lots of media attention, which is continuing this week.
JW: This Weight of the Nation conference was planned with a very intentional higher focus on physical activity, obesity, weight loss and weight management. ACSM continually works to underscore the importance of physical activity to all aspects of health, including weight management, obesity, etc. There was a Childhood Obesity Awareness Month exhibit at Weight of the Nation, and the observance was highlighted in a session. With all the great info coming from the conference and all the connections to be made there, it’s powerful to take that information and share it with all the organizations and advocates that support COAM.

SMB: That’s a lot packed into one week, Jim—and all this comes amid preparations for the 59th Annual Meeting and the third World Congress on Exercise is Medicine later this month. What are some of the highlights of those meetings in San Francisco?
JW: This will be an extraordinary Annual Meeting in regard to the new science to be shared, clinical medical practice, public health strategies and so much more. The EIM World Congress, I think, will both document and help further the globalization of Exercise is Medicine. One highlight that just got better involves Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who is presenting a special session at 11:45 a.m. on Wednesday, May 30, with the title “Using the Power of the Media to Help Build a Fit Nation.” That same afternoon, at 5:45 p.m., we’ll have a screening of the CNN documentary on sports concussion, “Big Hits, Broken Dreams.” That will be followed by a panel discussion with Dr. Gupta and with our own Kevin Guskiewicz, Ph.D., FACSM (who’s featured in the documentary) and Margot Putukian, M.D., FACSM (director of athletic medicine at Princeton University.)

SMB: So, in closing, this was just another uneventful week for ACSM, right?
JW: (Laughing) Well, there are no typical or uneventful weeks for us—at least, we haven’t seen one yet. But the scope of involvement that these activities reflect, and the unparalleled range and quality of our meetings coming up in San Francisco, make it clear to me that ACSM is continuing the trajectory our founders began in 1954. I think we’re doing them proud.