Get Involved, and Get Moving
By Lisa Katic
It has been known for sometime that balancing the calories we consume with calories burned through physical activity is the key to weight maintenance and a healthy life. But if that is so obvious, why is America’s weight problem so vast?
Unfortunately, it is difficult to change people’s learned behaviors — especially when it comes what they eat and how much energy they expend. Those are just the facts.
That’s why the Snack Food Association supports a major initiative formed in partnership with several companies and health professional organizations that have an interest in promoting healthful eating and active living among individuals. It’s called “America on the Move” (AOM), and it’s a good way to have a positive influence on health.
AOM is a non-profit foundation that has recognized through research that small, targeted changes in food and physical activity behaviors can have a positive effect on health and successfully halt weight gain. It has demonstrated that it only takes small incremental changes in a person’s life to have a positive effect on their health. Thus, the AOM program inspires Americans to engage in fun, simple ways to become more active and eat more healthfully.
For example, If Americans would make two small daily changes — take 2,000 more steps (the equivalent of about one mile) and eat just 100 fewer calories — there would be big results. AOM’s first pilot program, Colorado on the Move, verified that by setting personalized goals, people are more likely to initiate changes in their lives.
More than 60% of American adults do not exercise at the federally recommended level of 30 minutes a day. In fact, a recent Harris Poll survey conducted by AOM showed that Americans spend 7.7 hours per day sitting and four hours per day watching television and playing computer games.
So AOM realized that trying to start individuals on an exercise program requiring them to complete the recommended 10,000 steps per day (equal to five miles) was too daunting and unrealistic. Instead, they asked people in their pilot program to take just 2,000 extra steps per day, which was likely to lead to positive change. In addition, the pilot showed the importance of decreasing calorie consumption by a small amount. These combined actions were shown to help participants avoid weight gain.
A Program for Change
Trying to change behavior to improve health requires a commitment from individuals and communities where people live, work and play. AOM identified the need to engage multiple stakeholders across the country to create positive solutions.
It then developed a model that brings together civic leaders, health-related organizations, academic institutions, and industry, media and retail organizations to help communities build an infrastructure that supports and maintains newly formed behavior patterns focused on good nutrition and increased physical activity.
How Is This Achieved?
AOM reaches consumers in communities through four different delivery channels:
A Web site, www.americaonthemove.org, which lists programs and provides free tools for individuals or special groups to follow. Participants can set personalized goals and track progress on healthy eating and active living. The Web site also provides information about local and national AOM events.
A national grassroots network of AOM Affiliates, where coordinators work with partners to implement local programs and events. There are AOM Affiliates in California; Colorado; Florida; Washington, D.C.; Georgia; Idaho; Indiana; Louisiana; Massachusetts; Michigan; Nebraska; New Mexico; New York; Ohio; Tennessee; Texas; Virginia; and West Virginia.
National partners that work with AOM to bring customized programs to their membership or constituencies. Some examples of partners are the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American College of Sports Medicine and the National Urban League.
Industry supported programs in retail settings to give information to consumers to help them make wiser eating choices and incentives to start moving more with AOM.
America on the Move Gets Results
AOM conducted a study to examine the impact of using step counters (a cornerstone of AOM programs to increase activity) in conjunction with teaching materials on physical activity in more than 450 middle school students. The program was based on AOM’s physical activity model using elements such as tracking daily activity. The AOM program was found to have a positive impact on participation in physical activity levels in school students.
AOM also commissioned a study to evaluate families with overweight children, following over 200 families with at least one overweight child. These families were taught about the AOM philosophy of “small changes” and were provided with step counters, tracking forms and nutritional tips for cutting calories. The study found the first real evidence that making small and simple changes over a period of time had a positive impact on overweight children and increased their physical activity.
A more recent project targeting children and families by Harris Interactive for AOM surveyed about 1,500 youth ages 8-18 to learn their views regarding healthy eating and physical activity. The survey was conducted in preparation for Steptember, a month-long campaign to promote healthy lifestyles. The survey showed that moms are the key to shaping their kids views on being healthy. Seven in 10 kids (71%) receive their information about health from their mother.
Additionally, more 8-12 year olds than 13-18 year olds get information about what to do to be healthy from their mom (89% vs. 57%) and their dad (57% vs. 31%).
Make a Difference
You or your company can improve the health of your community, your family or yourself by logging onto the America on the Move Web site and joining in this effort for free — as an individual, a health professional or as a group. Each one will help you take steps to impact the health of someone now … maybe even you.
Lisa Katic is the Snack Food Association’s nutritionist and public policy health advisor.