ACSM-Initiated Commission Approves Historic Standards for Health & Fitness Facilities

(Editor’s Note: Part I of this article ran last week. Click here to read Part I.)

An extensive, multi-organizational process set in motion by ACSM has produced a set of standards that will allow for rigorous certification of health and fitness facilities. The new standards meet criteria set by NSF International, an accredited, third-party body that sets standards and tests and certifies products to verify they meet these public health and safety standards. Widely recognized for its scientific and technical expertise in the health and environmental sciences, NSF is a World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Food and Water Safety and Indoor Environment.

Walt Thompson, Ph.D., FACSM, led development of the standards—the latest contribution of a distinguished career. The new standards and certification process provide much-needed resources for the health and fitness sector, complementing ACSM’s Health/Fitness Facility Standards and Guidelines (Human Kinetics). The Guidelines present current standards and guidelines that help health and fitness establishments provide high-quality services and programs within a safe and appropriate environment. Now in its fourth edition, the book has become a definitive, must-have reference. SMB asked Dr. Thompson to explain the significance of the new NSF standards and the process that developed them.

Q&A with Walt Thompson, Ph.D., FACSM, Committee Chair

Walt Thompson, Ph.D., FACSM, is a Regents Professor of kinesiology and health (College of Education) and Associate Dean for Graduate Studies and Research, College of Education at Georgia State University in Atlanta. He holds a number of ACSM certifications, including Program Director®, and has served on the ACSM Board of Trustees and Administrative Council. He has lectured on health-related topics in 23 different countries and published extensively on research and professional practice issues in the health and fitness field.

SMB: What opportunities for feedback were stakeholders given?

Thompson: NSF has an extraordinarily open process in standards development. Each one of the multiple votes by Joint Committee members was accompanied by a period of time when anyone from within or outside the health fitness industry could comment. We received hundreds of comments, each of which was individually addressed by the Joint Committee and communicated by the Chair. As multiple professional organizations were represented on the Joint Committee, every step along the way this information was broadcasted widely to their memberships.

SMB: What challenges did you face in getting the standards passed? How did you address stakeholder concerns?

Thompson: As I mentioned, it took four years and 17 versions of the Standard to finally reach a consensus and address issues and suggestions, both from within the Joint Committee and the public. Every suggestion had to be vetted through various Task Groups established along the way. Because this is the first industry-wide standard of practice, we were met with many challenges. In the end, we have a consensus document that the industry can embrace.

SMB: You are an academic with an indirect link to the club industry. Why were you chosen to chair the commission? Why not a person directly involved in the club industry?

Thompson: The Joint Committee Chair had to have knowledge of the industry and could help to build consensus in an environment where there had previously been competition, disagreement, controversy, and discord. Together, we were able to not only communicate and negotiate in an atmosphere of mutual respect, but also to build consensus. In past committee assignments, I have been able to build consensus so I guess that was why I was considered a candidate for the position.

SMB: What are the next steps?

Thompson: The next step is for NSF to build a health fitness facility certification based on NSF 341. NSF is in the process of doing that now and hopefully will have the certification ready within the next year. This is a voluntary certification but the hope is that it will be embraced and adopted by all sectors of the health fitness industry.

SMB: What can the ACSM membership do to support this initiative? What can ACSM certified professionals do?

Thompson: The ACSM membership can support this initiative by approaching their employers to have their facilities certified when the certification becomes available. ACSM can once again lead the way by creating an awareness of the health fitness facility standard and certification. Prior to the certification, clubs, corporate wellness facilities, community based organizations, and medical fitness centers can purchase from NSF the Standard and begin to ready themselves for certification. Adopting the Standard early may also better position health fitness facilities for enhancing the quality and safety of consumers.