Researcher looks for ways to help children step it up

It’s the $64,000 question for those in the business of promoting good health: how do you make the right choice the easy choice?

Justin Moore ponders that every day in his quest to increase physical activity among children.

“Kids are getting criminally low amounts of physical activity,” said Moore, an assistant professor of health promotion, education and behavior in the Arnold School of Public Health who joined the faculty in 2010. “Society in general and schools specifically have engineered physical activity out of the daily routine, which, coupled with changes in daily lifestyles, has created a perfect storm for rising obesity rates.”

But Moore isn’t one to dwell on the negative. He points to South Carolina’s status as the first state to mandate the appointment of physical activity directors in elementary schools — an unfunded mandate but an opportunity nevertheless to develop a national model for implementing more physical activity in the school day.

Moore is interested in finding physical activity programs that have been effective, especially in schools or school districts where the odds for success appeared to be low.

“A lot of nutritional work in developing countries has shown that even in populations of undernourished kids there are some moms with well-nourished children,” he said. “They find a way, maybe cooking nontraditional foods, to ensure their kids are well fed.

“In the same way, we want to identify schools and afterschool programs that are doing well despite the odds being against them and learn what they’re doing right to promote physical activity that can be replicated. Instead of just focusing on what’s going wrong in schools, imagine being able to say, ‘Here’s a school just like yours that’s figured out how to do this — and here’s how they do it.’”

School administrators are tired of hearing about what they’re doing wrong, Moore said, but if they are presented with sustainable strategies based on what’s working in other schools, those strategies can be put to work. “I’m into implementing solutions we’ve identified as effective in the real world,” he said.

Moore is glad to have landed at USC following a post-doctoral fellowship at the Medical College of Georgia and faculty stints in Kentucky and North Carolina. “There’s a critical mass of expertise in physical activity research here with people like Steve Blair, Russ Pate, Ruth Saunders and Sara Wilcox. This is the go-to place for this kind of research.”

Finding effective, sustainable programs that promote children’s physical activity is the goal, but what about kids who are reluctant to participate?

 “Some in my field might consider this heresy, but I don’t believe you can make motivation,” Moore said. “But once you have a spark, we in public health can fuel it by increasing support and decreasing barriers.

“There will always be 20 percent of kids who are active enough on their own and 20 percent who will not be active no matter what. It’s the 60 percent in the middle that we can try to reach.”




Share this Story! Let friends in your social network know what you are reading about