UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – In class, kinesiology students are learning it takes more than personal choices – eating right and exercising – to live a healthy lifestyle. Sometimes, it also takes the work of the government to ensure citizens have adequate resources to make those good choices.
Recently, some of those students traveled to Washington, D.C. to voice their support for this very issue to legislators.
Six undergraduate students and three graduate students in the Department of Kinesiology attended National Health Through Fitness Day in March at Capitol Hill to encourage legislators to pass major legislation that would enhance physical activity in the United States. Melissa Bopp, associate professor of kinesiology, led the trip.
The Sport and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) organizes National Health Through Fitness Day in collaboration with the American College of Sports Medicine. For the event, industry executives, professional athletes and scientists talked to lawmakers about proposed legislation related to physical activity.
“Our students, as part of teams, went and visited with congressional and senate staffers about legislation, advocating for support for bills that would promote physical activity,” Bopp said.
About 150 leaders from the sports, fitness, and physical education industries attend National Health Through Fitness Day each year to ask Congress to pass key legislation to help the country tackle obesity and sedentary lifestyles. Company representatives from the food and beverage industry also attend.
For the two-day trip, students were divided into teams, and each team discussed legislation with a congressional staffer.
For junior Maria Malizia, who attended the event, the most interesting piece of legislation was the Personal Health Investment Today (PHIT) Act.
“This act is rooted in the idea that exercise is medicine,” she said. “Instead of people only being allowed to spend their own money from their Health Savings Account on medicine, this act would allow them to use it on gym memberships, race entry fees, and sporting equipment.”
Malizia’s group presented the PHIT Act and proposals for funding for physical education.“Each of the staffers that my group met with was positive and supportive of our proposals and a few even mentioned that they knew their representative was already planning on voting for it,” Malizia said.
Legislation regarding physical activity is important to Malizia because she believes as the country is becoming more obese, health care costs will continue to rise.
“If we continue to lack physical education in schools, we are raising inactive kids who become inactive adults,” she said. “Physical activity legislation is a way to prevent future health care costs.”
Malizia continued, “I think this trip showed how what we learn in the classroom is really applicable to the outside world. The issues we learn about in class are the same issues being presented to Congress, and voted on for our entire country. Kinesiology is becoming more and more essential in the lives of the American people.”
Madison Weidel, a junior who attended the trip, said she learned a great deal when presenting the PHIT act to staffers.
“I was previously unaware that health savings accounts even existed, so I learned a lot while studying and presenting the PHIT act,” she said. “I really think it’s a great way to promote healthcare as a preventative measure, not just a reactive one.”
Weidel said the trip also helped her enhance her networking skills and gave her the opportunity to answer questions confidently.
“I honestly think those skills were more powerful than anything I learned about the acts specifically, since they are so relevant to so many situations I may find myself in during my professional life,” she said.
Weidel said physical activity legislation is important for giving people the means to be active.
“No piece of legislation can force people to be physically active or make people want to be. However, there are a lot of people in the United States that may have a desire to be physically active but do not have the means to do so. Legislation is important in giving everyone the means to be healthy and physically active,” she said.
Bopp said the trip helped students apply their classroom learning to the real world, and she is inspired by how they represented themselves and the legislation.
“I cannot describe how proud I was. These students really rose to the occasion,” Bopp said. “We talk a lot in class about community and how policy can influence your health. Students are learning it can be difficult to make healthy personal choices if you don’t have the resources available. This trip drives home the message that there are bigger things than one’s self when it comes to living a healthy life.”