Achieving Equity in Physical Activity Participation: ACSM Experience and Next Steps

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Abstract

There is clear and consistent evidence that regular physical activity is an important component of healthy lifestyles and fundamental to promoting health and preventing disease. Despite the known benefits of physical activity participation, many people in the United States remain inactive. More specifically, physical activity behavior is socially patterned with lower participation rates among women; racial/ethnic minorities; sexual minority youth; individuals with less education; persons with physical, mental, and cognitive disabilities; individuals >65 yr of age; and those living in the southeast region of the United States. Many health-related outcomes follow a pattern that is similar to physical activity participation. In response to the problem of inequities in physical activity and overall health in the United States, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) has developed a national roadmap that supports achieving health equity through a physically active lifestyle. The actionable, integrated pathways that provide the foundation of ACSM’s roadmap include the following: 1) communication—raising awareness of the issue and magnitude of health inequities and conveying the power of physical activity in promoting health equity; 2) education—developing educational resources to improve cultural competency for health care providers and fitness professionals as well as developing new community-based programs for lay health workers; 3) collaboration—building partnerships and programs that integrate existing infrastructures and leverage institutional knowledge, reach, and voices of public, private, and community organizations; and 4) evaluation—ensuring that ACSM attains measurable progress in reducing physical activity disparities to promote health equity. This article provides a conceptual overview of these four pathways of ACSM’s roadmap, an understanding of the challenges and advantages of implementing these components, and the organizational and economic benefits of achieving health equity.

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