Q&A with ACSM President-Elect: How ACSM will be "Inclusive - Active - Healthy"
By Dr. Barbara Ainsworth, Ph.D., MPH, FACSM, and Dr. Melicia Whitt-Glover, Ph.D., FACSM

ACSM President-Elect Barbara Ainsworth, Ph.D., MPH, FACSM, is a Professor in the Exercise and Wellness Program and the Healthy Lifestyles Research Center at Arizona State University in Phoenix. As ACSM President-Elect, Dr. Ainsworth chairs the ACSM Annual Meeting Program Committee. With support of that capable team, she is developing a cohesive and diverse program of research and educational content for our 2011 Annual Meeting and World Congress on Exercise is Medicine®, which will be held in Denver from May 31 – June 4. Each President-Elect creates a unique focus for the Annual Meeting program that can, in part, highlight some of her or his leadership objectives for the College.

Melicia Whitt-Glover, Ph.D., FACSM, is president and CEO of Gramercy Research Group in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She is a community-based researcher with background, training and experience in exercise science and epidemiology. Gramercy’s mission is to develop and implement programs that positively impact the health of individuals and communities. Dr. Whitt-Glover’s research includes developing and assessing interventions to increase physical activity in racial/ethnic minority communities.

This month, ACSM’s Sports Medicine Bulletin (SMB) is featuring a special series in observance of February as Black History Month. This series will cover a broad spectrum of diversity-related issues that pertain to our members, the world’s leading sports medicine and exercise science professionals.

During her ACSM presidential term, Dr. Barbara Ainsworth will focus on increasing diversity and inclusion while also reducing health disparities. In this Q&A with SMB, Dr. Ainsworth and her colleague, Dr. Whitt-Glover, share their perspectives on activities and initiatives to realize these goals and promote diversity.

SMB: Dr. Ainsworth – during your ACSM presidential term, you will focus on increasing diversity and inclusion and reducing health disparities. How will this take shape?

Dr. Ainsworth: ACSM is a diverse organization with members from many countries, at varying stages of their careers and with multiple interests. I aim to assure that ACSM is inclusive in the ways we promote active living, so all persons have an equal opportunity to live healthy lives. This includes special emphasis for persons who typically have not had the opportunity to enjoy good health through active living – people of color, women, older adults, socially and economically disadvantaged persons and those living in rural areas who may be cut off from resources for health care and support for being physically active. Thus, my initiative is: Inclusive • Active • Healthy. Through this initiative, ACSM leaders and I will develop a U.S. collaborative of individuals, health promotion organizations and agencies to improve health through physical activity in diverse communities and settings.

SMB: Dr. Whitt-Glover – you have worked closely with Dr. Ainsworth for many years to advance physical activity in diverse communities. There are many ACSM members doing research on health promotion within “diverse” communities. Why is it important to also diversify ACSM’s membership?

Dr. Whitt-Glover: Diversifying our membership increases the pool of trained professionals able to conduct research and provide care within the population. Research shows high rates of preventable diseases – like diabetes, hypertension, coronary heart disease and stroke – among people of color and socioeconomically disadvantaged communities. These same communities also have low rates of health-related behaviors, including healthy diet and physical activity. Research also shows increased patient satisfaction when there is concordance in demographic factors (e.g., race/ethnicity, gender) with providers. Increased diversity in ACSM’s membership also increases the diversity among individuals doing research on health promotion within diverse communities and, thus, could increase participant satisfaction and, ultimately, intervention adherence. Having a diverse pool of individuals who are members of the groups that are the focus of research studies could also lend additional, unique “insider” perspectives that enhance the quality, relevance and success of health promotion research strategies.

SMB: Dr. Ainsworth – what is ACSM already doing to increase diversity?

Dr. Ainsworth: For nearly 20 years, there has been focus on increasing the involvement of women in ACSM. Each year, we honor our founding matriarch, Dr. Josephine Rathbone, with a breakfast in her name. We have produced Position Stands on topics of interest to women and supported a Strategic Health Initiative for Women, Sport and Physical Activity. In 25 years, the number of female members in ACSM has grown fourfold, and the presence of women on the Board of Trustees is the norm. Yet, despite these efforts, female Fellows are outnumbered by male Fellows five to one.

We also have supported the Diversity Task Force, aiming to increase the racial and ethnic diversity of ACSM and to increase the relevance of ACSM to persons of color and from different ethnicities. We now have diversity scholars who are ACSM professionals and student members interested in gaining leadership positions in the College. This is a good start.

SMB: Following up on these activities, Dr. Ainsworth, what are some specific strategies you envision ACSM taking to increase diversity?

Dr. Ainsworth: The Exercise is Medicine® (EIM) initiative provides an excellent opportunity to engage health care providers to promote physical activity and healthy lifestyles to people living in diverse communities. ACSM has an EIM Diversity ad hoc committee to develop strategies for increasing physical activity in racial and ethnic minorities. As well, the initiative is reaching out to people through global partnerships, promoting active lifestyles on college campuses and engaging the support of health care providers in rural and underserved areas. We also are partnering with other organizations – such as the Society of Behavioral Medicine – to identify evidence-based programs to promote physical activity in settings that have previously been without access for effective strategies to increase physical activity.

SMB: Dr. Whitt-Glover – you have been a member of ACSM since you were an undergraduate student. From your experience, how can we increase the relevance of ACSM for underrepresented groups?

Dr. Whitt-Glover: Providing mentoring and opportunities to work within ACSM is the best strategy I know to increase the relevance of ACSM to underrepresented groups. When I was a student, we were expected to go to ACSM every year – to present, to interact with colleagues and to serve. I didn’t know that not joining ACSM was even an option. We were taught what ACSM represented and the importance of being a part of ACSM during our classes. At each ACSM conference, my mentors took the time to introduce me to College leaders, encouraged me to serve on committees and run for office, and generally made ACSM a part of my professional life. I had opportunities to speak to people in a wide range of positions in the field of sports medicine and exercise science and have met some great colleagues who have turned into wonderful friends.

Most students do not think about the importance of joining professional organizations, and many do not think about (or know about) attending conferences. Getting the underrepresented groups to meetings is the first step. Creating a welcoming environment that provides opportunities for mutually respectful knowledge exchange makes people feel valued and relevant to the organization which, in turn, will help make the organization feel relevant for them.