Thursday, 7 July 2016

Keeping up with the pace of physical activity research

Posted by Liane Azevedo, Fuse staff member and Senior Lecturer in Physical Activity and Public Health, Teesside University

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) Annual Meeting takes place at an intense pace with around 20 sessions running in parallel from 8am to 5pm for four days. I have been attending the conference since the year 2000 and at first really struggled to understand the language and content, often returning to my room completely drained and with a thumping headache.

Things are a little bit better now and I was brave enough this year to stand up in quite a few sessions to ask questions. Of course my heart rate was racing but in my early years at the conference just the thought of standing up in front of so many renowned researchers would cause me palpitations.

There were quite a few presentation highlights for me this year, so much so that I’m going to need two blog posts to cover them. Here I’ll talk about the prestigious Joseph B. Wolffe Memorial Lecture, physical activity interventions in children, and an interesting presentation which gave an evolutionary perspective on whether changes in energy expenditure contribute to the problems of obesity.

Liane with her poster at the ACSM Annual Meeting
So let’s start… The Joseph B Wolffe Memorial Lecture (named in memory of the first ACSM President) was delivered by Prof Russell R. Pate from University of South Carolina. Prof Pate is well known by all who do research in physical activity in children. With more than 300 publications in the field, his works mainly concentrate on children, from pre-school to school intervention and policy implementation (he is a member of the US Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee). From all the papers that Prof Pate has written, the articles on pre-school children are those that I am most interested. He showed some data that children spend only 3 per cent of their time in moderate to vigorous physical activity and were sedentary for more than 80 per cent of the time when attending childcare. He then used policy recommendations in US childcare to show that few regulations in childcare are consistent with this recommendation. Surprisingly, no state in the USA has regulations in place for staff joining children in physical activity, and about providing education to carers to increase physical activity. Professor Pate then showed some initiatives that are taking place, for example ABC Grow. This is something that I would be really keen to see in the UK too, having a child that has just recently left the childcare setting and knowing about the limited opportunities and training currently provided here.

In another symposium, I heard about current approaches (and difficulties) to do with helping kids move. There is a great initiative from UNICEF called Kid Power in which by making children active (tracked by an arm band pedometer) it unlocks food packages for malnourished children across the world. The symposium also talked about another initiative running in the United States that is supported by Michelle Obama called The Aspen Institute Project Play. Take a look at this video in which the First Lady talks about the numerous physical activity opportunities for affluent kids and the absence of opportunities for those who are deprived, very thought-provoking….

Finally, I went to a very intriguing presentation, which gave an evolutionary perspective on whether changes in energy expenditure contribute to the problems of obesity. The presenters showed studies from hunter-gatherers and other African rural societies that revealed a lack of association between total energy expenditure and obesity, and that activity energy expenditure is the same between Nigerian and American women but American women are more obese. They also showed that hunter-gatherer populations had surprisingly similar total energy expenditure to adults from developed countries. The presenters suggested that ‘traditional’ lifestyles (without an exercise intervention) may not protect against obesity, and change in diet might be important to reduce the trends of obesity seen in our society (this is a good reading if interested).

In my next blog I will talk about the most recent updates on sedentary behaviour research, interventions to promote physical activity and academic performance, how my own presentation went, and about an interesting debate entitled ‘Who Wins: The Tortoise or the Hare in the Race for Health Benefits?’ which talked about the health benefits of sedentary behaviour, moderate physical activity and high-intensity physical activity. See you then…

Acknowledgment: Liane Azevedo would like to thank Fuse and Teesside University for the support to attend this Conference.

The 63rd American College of Sports Medicine Annual Meeting was held in Boston with around 5,500 people attending from all disciplines related to exercise science and sports medicine.

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