Outlook: Newsletter of the Society of Behavorial Medicine

Summer 2018

Findings of the Federal Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee: An Interview with Abby King

Siobhan M. Phillips, PhD, MPH, Physical Activity SIG Chair

Abby King, PhD
Abby King, PhD

We recently talked with Dr. Abby King, Professor at Stanford University and co-chair of the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee, about what the Scientific Report leading up to the updated Federal guidelines for physical activity has uncovered.

What is the process for developing the new guidelines?

The federal government put out a call a few years back for experts in the area of physical activity and health. A final group of 17 scientists with expertise in different areas of physical activity was selected to serve on the formal Advisory Committee. The committee met from June 2016 through the first months of 2018. The Scientific Report was recently published and is available on-line. The Advisory Committee does not write the guidelines, those are written by the federal government. The committee reviews the evidence, submits their report, and the Department of Health and Human Services draws on the Report in determining the guidelines. The guidelines will most likely come out in the fall of this year. The Secretary’s Office of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is responsible for making federal guidelines in this area. All other national organizations that release recommendations cannot call them guidelines (e.g., CDC, AHA). Until the 2008 guidelines, there were no formal federal guidelines for physical activity.

How do you think the new guidelines will differ from the 2008 guidelines? 

It is likely that the new guidelines will reflect much of the new information included in the Advisory Committee’s report. There were nine total subcommittees. Of these, two were completely new: sedentary behavior and physical activity promotion. There are important new findings in a number of areas, including brain health (including sleep and cognitive function), cancer, groups with chronic conditions, and inclusion of children under age 6. The report showed that physical activity is associated with reduced risk of falls and fall-related injuries, inactivity is associated with a variety of cancers, there are interactions of sedentary time and physical activity, and initial support was found for high intensity interval training. A key finding was that physical activity of any bout length is meaningful. In general, more physical activity is better, regardless of how much is achieved. For optimal health benefits, people should aim for 150-300 minutes/week. In general, people of all ages and capabilities should aim to move more and sit less on a daily basis.

What else should behavioral medicine researchers know about the Scientific Report?

This was the first time that the review included physical activity promotion as a sub-committee. The 2008 report only reviewed evidence linking physical activity to health outcomes. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise will be publishing an issue focusing on the findings from the Advisory Committee report. The scientific report and guidelines that will follow will open up new areas of research for behavioral medicine scientists. Two examples are that interventions should use multilevel approaches and research include more intergenerational samples. The field as a whole should take advantage of the report and guidelines because they lay out where we need more evidence, so be proactive in using them to add substantively to the field.