HHS releases second edition of Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans: Q&A with Don Wright, MD, MPH

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released the second edition of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.

HHS released the federal government’s first science-based recommendations on physical activity to prevent disease and promote health in 2008.

Admiral Brett P. Giroir, MD, HHS assistant secretary for health, led a panel of federal and non-federal experts in a discussion of the science behind the recommendations and new evidence supporting the connections between physical activity, disease prevention, quality of life and health care strategies to help Americans get moving.

Don Wright, MD, MPH, HHS deputy assistant secretary for health and director of the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, spoke to the Daily News about the guidelines’ implications.

What are the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, and why are they important?
Wright: The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans serve as the primary, authoritative voice of the federal government for evidence-based guidance on physical activity, fitness and health for Americans. The guidelines provide recommendations for adults and youth to safely get the physical activity they need. The guidelines also provide information on how physical activity can promote health and reduce the risk of chronic disease.

Currently, only 26 percent of men, 19 percent of women and 20 percent of adolescents in the United States meet the recommendations. This has health and economic consequences for the nation, with nearly $117 billion in annual health care costs and 10 percent of all premature mortality attributable to our failure to meet recommended levels of aerobic physical activity. Increasing the number of Americans meeting these recommendations will save lives, improve quality of life across the population and decrease the burden of chronic disease on our health care system.

What did attendees learn at the keynote session on the guidelines?
(From the Editors: During the session, Admiral Giroir discussed what was new in the guidelines, including extensive new knowledge gained since the publication of the first edition. Following his remarks, other speakers provided an overview on the methodology and science used to update the second edition and discussed strategies for implementation. William E. Kraus, MD, from Duke University, discussed the science connecting physical activity to cardiovascular disease mortality, all-cause mortality and other health outcomes, while Russell R. Pate, PhD, from the University of South Carolina, discussed the impact of partnerships to increase physical activity across the nation. Both are members of the advisory committee that completed the scientific review that informed the second edition of the guidelines. Janet Fulton, PhD, from the CDC, discussed implementation strategies.)

Wright: The session underscored that physical activity is one of the most effective preventive health interventions. Increasing the number of Americans who follow the recommendations will require individuals as well as community and national leaders to take action.

How can physicians use the guidelines in practice?
Wright: Physicians are trusted sources of health information for their patients, and uniquely positioned to counsel patients on the importance of physical activity. Physicians can talk to their patients, learn about their barriers to physical activity and advise them on how to best fit physical activity into their daily routines. Providers also can reassure their patients about the safety of physical activity, even for those with disabilities and underlying health conditions. They can also prescribe an exercise program that accounts for these concerns (https://www.prescriptionforactivity.org/).

Where can readers learn more about the guidelines?
Wright: The second edition of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans and a suite of resources for health professionals are available at https://health.gov/PAGuidelines/.