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Arnold School of Public Health

Russell Pate leads development of report on implementing strategies to enhance public health surveillance of physical activity in U.S.

July 8, 2019 | Erin Bluvas,

The Health and Medicine Division of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, with support from the Department of Health and Human Services, convened a committee of experts to develop strategies to help implement actions recommended to improve national physical activity surveillance. Russell Pate, director of the Children’s Physical Activity Research Group and professor of exercise science, chaired the committee and served as lead author on the resulting report, Implementing Strategies to Enhance Public Health Surveillance of Physical Activity in the United States

Although physical activity has long been recognized as a key component of a healthy lifestyle, it has only become a focus on the public health sector in recent decades. In parallel with current efforts to develop a comprehensive strategy for promoting physical activity, experts are also working to create effective surveillance methods for the systematic collection and analysis of health-related data.

“The existing public health system in the United States includes some important physical activity surveillance resources, such as several different national surveys,” Pate says. “But many gaps remain to be filled, and that’s what we have aimed to achieve with this report – to provide a comprehensive set of recommended actions that, when taken, will contribute to filling those gaps and establishing a robust physical activity surveillance system in the United States.”

This report was informed by previous projects conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Sports Medicine in 2014, which convened an expert panel that identified priority areas for enhancing physical activity surveillance, and the Physical Activity Innovation Collaborative in 2017, where a group identified key strategies for enhancing physical activity surveillance. Building on these projects, the present report includes specific actions that should be taken to implement strategies for enhancement of physical activity surveillance.

The resulting 22 strategies fall into four categories (i.e., children, health care, workplaces, community supports for physical activity) and include recommendations such as developing protocols for physical fitness tests to monitor fitness tests among children and identifying features of the built environment (e.g., playground accessibility, sidewalks) that are most likely to influence physical activity in children as well as conducting surveillance of cardiorespiratory fitness and muscle strength testing and expanding the use of data from wearable devices for monitoring physical activity among at-risk populations in health care settings.

Workplace strategies include actions such as convening public and private stakeholders to prioritize and implement consensus key measures to assess individual-level physical activity, physical fitness and sedentary behavior surveillance and developing consistent measures for physical activity designs, operations, policies, programs, culture and climate. To support physical activity surveillance at the community level, the committee recommends strategies such as identifying and compiling GIS-based data sources and methods to facilitate national surveillance of community supports for physical activity and exploring opportunities for partnering with professional organization to query their membership about physical activity-supportive policies and to share policy tracking data for surveillance purposes.

“Physical activity has far-reaching benefits for physical, mental, emotional and social health and well-being for all segments of the population, but most Americans do not meet current public health guidelines for physical activity – despite these documented benefits and previous efforts to promote it in the U.S. population,” Pate says. “It is challenging to assess physical activity because it is a complex and multidimensional behavior that varies by type, intensity, setting, motives, and environmental and social influences. With this report, we hope to help address the critical lack of surveillance systems to assess both physical activity behaviors, such as walking, and physical activity environments, such as the walkability of communities.”  


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Russell Pate receives 2015 Lifetime Achievement Award from President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition

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