November 20, 2018, Washington, DC—Congressional aides, proponents of physical activity, and others crammed into Room 2253 of the Rayburn House Office Building last week to learn more about the new Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans and why exercise matters in public policy—just days after exit polls showed health care as the top issue for voting Americans. The National Coalition for Promoting Physical Activity (NCPPA) hosted the November 15th Congressional briefing, which preceded an afternoon of meetings and frank discussions with nearly 50 Senate offices from more than 30 states.
During the Senate office meetings, proponents of physical activity for a stronger, healthier America discussed the new guidelines and how the lack of policies to promote physical activity contribute to the national debt due to the need for government spending on the treatment of preventable chronic diseases. Regular physical activity, in fact, helps prevent and/or manage eight of the ten most expensive medical conditions, according to the Co-Chair of the Physical Activity Guidelines Scientific Advisory Committee, Kenneth E. Powell, MD, MPH, who presented at the briefing. Meeting participants also encouraged Senate support of bipartisan-backed legislation that promotes physical activity—specifically, the Personal Health Investment Today Act (PHIT) (S.482) and the Every Kid Outdoors Act (S.1522).
“Increasing the amount of time that Americans move each day can help prevent chronic diseases and control the cost of health care,” said Ayanna McKnight, Coalition Manager of NCPPA. “But it’s more than that. Physical activity can help address many of the most pressing issues that our nation faces today. From creating a healthier workforce and strong economy, to ensuring that we have strong, eligible recruits for our military, to building good mental health and aiding in addiction prevention and treatment, exercise has a pivotal role to play.”
The Capitol Hill briefing featured experts and advocates of physical activity, including:
· Katrina Piercy, PhD, RD, ACSM-CEP, LCDR, U.S. Public Health Service
· Kenneth E. Powell, MD, MPH, Physical Activity Guidelines Scientific Advisory Committee Co‐Chair
· Pat LaFontaine, Vice President of Hockey Development, National Hockey League, U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame
· Tom Richards, Director of Community Engagement, American Council on Exercise
· Amy Callender, Director of Government Affairs, National Athletic Trainers’ Association
· Special guest, Sadie Thomas, who shared her story on inclusive physical activity
Amid discussion about science and policy came a poignant moment at the Congressional briefing that captured the everyday reality of why policies to support people in their efforts to be physically active matter so much. When NHL Hall-of-Famer, Pat LaFontaine, turned and spoke directly to 11-year-old Sadie Thomas—a young athlete with cerebral palsy and other health concerns who came to the event to share her personal story of inclusivity and empowerment—the room went silent. The audience listened with shared emotion to hear every word as LaFontaine recognized Sadie for her determination in overcoming adversity and praised her for her tremendous contribution to inspiring others to become more physically active. Earlier in the program, Sadie and her family shared their personal story about the meaningful impact regular physical activity has had on both improving her symptoms and making her feel stronger since she became a part of Girls on the Run Birmingham more than eight months ago.
Referring to the recent mid-term elections, Helen Durkin, NCPPA President-elect and Executive Vice President for Public Policy at the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA), commented: “The exit polls were clear. Health care emerged as the biggest issue for voters in the mid-term elections. But the truth is, we can’t fix our health care problem without addressing the preventable diseases that drive so much of the spending. Exercise helps prevent many chronic diseases. We need public policies—and bipartisan legislation like PHIT—that make it easier for hard-working Americans to be physically active each and every day. Living healthy lifestyles needs to be an easy choice for everyone—no matter where you live or your physical, mental, or financial ability. Creating a culture of health in America must also come from the top, with Congress enacting public policies and legislation that remove the barriers to exercise so people in our rural communities, in our largest cities, and with all kinds of life circumstances can live active, healthy lives.”
About the Personal Health Investment Today Act (PHIT) (S.482)
The Personal Health Investment Today Act has passed the House. It must now pass the Senate to become law. This bill will allow Americans to use flexible spending accounts (FSAs) and health savings accounts (HSAs) to pay for youth sports leagues, fitness equipment, exercise videos, health club memberships, and certain other exercise expenses. Currently, the IRS code only allows these accounts to be used for medical expenses like prescription medications and doctor visits. If passed, it will allow individuals to use up to $1,000 per year to cover these expenses and families to use up to $2,000 per year.
About the Every Kid Outdoors Act (S.1522)
The Every Kid Outdoors Act encourages fourth graders and their families to visit America’s natural, cultural, and historical treasures. If passed, the bill would authorize the Department of the Interior, U.S. Forest Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Army Corps of Engineers, to administer a pass program to provide free entry for fourth graders and their families to visit our national public lands, waters, and shores. Time spent outdoors is associated with higher levels of physical activity, research shows, and it contributes to a child’s healthy development, many experts agree.
NCPPA is a nonprofit coalition determined to unite the strengths of public, private, and industry to inspire and empower all Americans to lead more physically active lifestyles. Member organizations can be found on its website at NCPPA.org.