Two of Pitt’s own will play a part in setting the nation on a healthier track.
U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Mathews Burwell has selected two Pitt professors — John Jakicic and Kirk Erickson — from a pool of 125 nominees to join the Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services formed the committee to work on the 2018 edition of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, which provides scientific physical activity recommendations to the public and health providers.
The committee will consist of 17 national exercise and public health experts in total. Alan Lesgold, dean of Pitt’s School of Education, said Pitt is very proud to have two faculty members involved in writing the new guidelines.
“The Secretary of HHS had access to all the top researchers in the U.S., so her selection of Dr. Jakicic and Dr. Erickson speaks to their reputation as among the best researchers in the country,” Lesgold said. “Erickson and Jakicic are shining examples of the overall excellence of Pitt’s faculty. We are proud of them and we will continue to support their important work.”
According to Jakicic, chair of the Department of Health and Physical Activity in the School of Education, it is a “prestigious” honor to work with well-respected colleagues in his field and make an impact beyond his research.
“These guidelines will have major implications beyond the work we do on a day to day basis,” Jakicic said. “What’s interesting about the guidelines is that what we come up with a general guideline for the whole population.”
The committee first introduced the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans in 2008. Jakicic said authors of the second edition, which will come out in 2018, will base recommendations on existing data combined with new scientific discoveries from over the past 10 years.
“There might be some areas we haven’t gained in science before,” Jakicic said. “There is literature suggesting that physical activity is around treatment of mental health. In the last 10 years, we’ve gained enough information around how physical activity helps with cognition, thinking and brain health [to provide guidelines regarding mental health]. I think that that’s going to be a new area that we are going to talk about.”
The effects of aging will also play a larger role in the second edition’s guidelines, Jakicic said.
“There’s some new stuff coming out around aging, which we haven’t had before as well,” Jakicic said. “There are some guidelines about mental health on aging, but it is going to be expanded and be more precise given what we learned in the last 10 years. This area has gotten a lot attention.”
According to Erickson, a Pitt psychology professor, the 2018 edition guideline is likely to have more detailed information on the amount and types of physical activities that improve public health.
“There’s a number of possibilities and part of it is to see what the data looks like,” Erickson said. “It could be that we have more information about the appropriate dose of physical activities for improving disease conditions. We might have more information about the type of activities that are most effective. We may just be able to support and … strengthen the previous recommendations with current evidence and then expand them to include other conditions.”
Erickson said making broad statements about how people should get more physical activity doesn’t help as much as providing specific guidelines people can achieve.
“The 2008 guidelines have had enormous influence on providing physicians and the public with something to try to achieve,” Erickson said, “I’m hoping the 2018 guidelines will be able to support those claims and provide similar recommendations.”