February 6, 2009
NIH Podcast Episode #0077
Balintfy: Welcome to the 77th episode of NIH Research Radio with news about the ongoing medical research at the National Institutes of Health—the nation's medical research agency. I'm your host Joe Balintfy. coming up in this episode, how an earlier flu wave may have protected against a worse, later one. And we hear from the Acting Surgeon General in the first of a series on the new Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. But first, an NIH summit that explored the science of health disparities. That's next on NIH Research Radio.
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NIH Summit Explores Science of Health Disparities
Balintfy: A recent summit highlighted many of the complex biological and non-biological factors that influence health outcomes. Sessions offered best-practice models in research, training, career development, clinical intervention, community outreach, and policy, being applied in communities around the nation and in different countries. Hosted by the National Institutes of Health it was the largest national conference ever on health disparities. The “NIH Summit: The Science of Eliminating Health Disparities” is also the first of its kind. It involved all of the NIH Institutes and Centers. Dr. Raynard Kington, Acting Director of the NIH, says health disparities research is key in the quest to improve the health of all Americans. He adds that the summit underscores the significance of partnerships to eliminate this complex issue.
Kington: I think it’s an opportunity to bring together leading scientists, policy makers, and practitioners to come together to agree on a strategic approach to addressing and ultimately eliminating health disparities.
Balintfy: Advances in science, medicine, and technology offer the potential to improve health, but large segments of the population defined by race, ethnicity, geography, gender, or socio-economics are not deriving equal benefits from these advances. As part of the summit, Dr, Kington announced the launch of an Intramural Program at the National Center for Minority Health and Health Disparities to expand research into eliminating health disparities.
Kington: I think the intramural research program that is being developed presents another opportunity to support research that addresses important health disparities. It taps into this unique resource of the intramural program at NIH.Balintfy: This new program builds on existing health disparity-related efforts to conduct state-of-the-art research, create training and career development, and to contribute a pool of promising and seasoned investigators to the NIH Intramural Research Program. For more information on the summit, the funding announcement and health disparities research, visit www.ncmhd.nih.gov.
Earlier Pandemic Flu Wave May Protect Against Worse One Later
Balintfy: Now for our next report. Did you get the flu this season? Either way, be grateful we’re not living 90 years ago through a flu pandemic. Millions were killed. But even today, we’re still learning valuable information about the flu virus. In particular, that an early wave of the flu may protect against a worse one later. Wally Akinso has the details.
Akinso: New evidence about the worldwide influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 indicates that getting the flu early protected many people against a second deadlier wave.
Viboud: We were interested at looking at historical data from the catastrophic 1918-19 influenza pandemic, to look at cross-immunity between different outbreaks of this pandemic.
Akinso: Dr. Cécile Viboud is a staff scientist at the Fogarty International Center.
Viboud: By cross-immunity we mean immunity of protection between successive outbreaks of this pandemic. For instance people who are infected during the first outbreak are protected against infection in the second outbreak.
Akinso: American soldiers, British sailors and a group of British civilians who were afflicted by the first mild wave of influenza in early 1918 apparently were more immune than others to the severe clinical effects of a more virulent strain later in the year according to Dr. Viboud.
Viboud: The study suggests that individuals who were infected by mild form of influenza in the spring of 1918 were protected against death or clinical disease in the fall of 1918; when the more virulent form of the virus occurred.
Akinso: The 1918-1919 pandemic killed between 50 million and 100 million people worldwide and was unusually deadly in young adults, including soldiers. This is Wally Akinso at the National Institutes of Health Bethesda, Maryland.Balintfy: Stay tuned for the Acting Surgeon General and the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Right after this break.
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Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans – Part 1 of 3
Balintfy: Welcome back. We’re kicking of the first of a three part series now about the new Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. In this segment, we talk to Acting Surgeon General, Dr. Steven Galson about the importance of the guidelines, as well as with Dr. Bill Haskell, the chair of the task force that helped develop the guidelines. First, Dr. Galson explains that the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans resulted in four publications.
Dr. Galson: They’re publications that were put together for scientists who were really interested in understanding what is the data that’s been developed over the last few years that helped the Advisory Committee figure out what to recommend. Then there’s a document that’s meant for the general public.
Balintfy: Dr. Bill Haskell, from Stanford University, was chair of that Advisory Committee. He says that data on the benefits of physical activity was coming in as early as the 1970s. In 1996 there was enough data relating physical activity to a number of major health outcomes that some earlier recommendations came out.
Dr. Haskell: And then, starting in the early 2000s, people began to say, “Well, there’s a lot more data collected on various disease outcomes as well as on different populations.” For example, in 1995 we had limited data on physical activity benefits in women. And during the decade between 1995 and 2005, a number of very large studies, many of them funded by NIH, in which women were involved, really demonstrated that the benefit was there for women as well for men.
Balintfy: The specific publication for the American public is “Be Active Your Way: A Guide for Adults” – we’ll have more on this in our next episode. Dr. Haskel emphasizes that the guidelines as a whole, are the first in the U.S. that really address a wide range of populations.
Dr. Haskell: This is the first set that include youth, adults, and then older adults. Also it’s the first set of guidelines that really address special or kind of understudied populations: pregnant women, ethnic and racial minorities, a special kind of attention there, and then a wide range of individuals with physical disabilities. So recommendations, information regarding all those populations are included, as well as some special issues relative to people who are overweight or obese.
Balintfy: Dr. Galson emphasizes that the guidelines are for all Americans.
Dr. Galson: Well, this is the first Federal Physical Activity Guidelines that’s ever been produced, so this is the federal government wanting to make sure that we communicate to the public the importance of physical activity in keeping every American healthy. The best way to reduce your risk of many chronic diseases, to control your weight, to help keep you healthy and energetic is to get regular physical activity. But there has never been a clear statement from the federal government about how much, who can do it, whether there are risks associated with it? So this is trying to really communicate clearly to the public in one voice about physical activity and the benefits of it.
Balintfy: What are the recommendations, and how are they new? Again, Dr. Haskell.
Dr. Haskell: Within the recommendations themselves, the core recommendation of kind of 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity per week as kind of the public health goal for individuals, is pretty much the same as the recommendations over the last decade. One new addition is kind of moving resistance exercise for developing muscle strength, bone strength, has been moved up to having primary health outcomes. In the past, we really only had data kind of demonstrating resistance exercise contributing to fitness, now we have substantial data that resistance exercise contributs to a number of important health outcomes.
Balintfy: Dr. Haskell and the Acting Surgeon General explain that physical activity comes in three types: aerobic, muscle-strengthening and bone-strengthening. Dr. Galson adds that the guidelines break down specific activity recommendations.
Dr. Galson: The Physical Activity Guidelines that we just produced have specific amounts of physical activity that we’re recommending for each age group, but it’s fairly straightforward. There are different recommendations for kids and for most people up to age 65. But the bottom line of the message — so you don’t have to memorize numbers — is that every American can get physical activity in their own way. It’s important for everyone, even people who have disabilities, kids who are young. Everyone can get physical activity in their own way, and it will help their health.
Balintfy: Dr. Haskel points out that the general recommendations are not necessarily absolute minimums, particularly for people who have been very inactive for a period of time.
Dr. Haskell: I like to think of the core recommendations as being public health targets, and then there are some people who are very inactive and are substantially away from those targets in terms of their daily behaviors. And we tried to point out that while we wanted to put that public health target out there, we also wanted to encourage people who were doing nothing — the idea that something is better than nothing, and more is better yet. And so the idea that if you’ve been really inactive for a period of time, and you look at the public health target, that seems a long ways away. But you can make a lot of progress, and we know there are substantial health benefits in moving up the amount of activity you’re doing somewhere intermediate from doing nothing, to reaching those targets.
Balintfy: The key to getting health benefits, says Dr. Haskell, is getting started.
Dr. Haskell: The one point I would like to make there is that, regardless of your body size or shape, individuals benefit substantially from being more physically active. And so there’s a lot of benefits that are independent of the weight loss benefit of physical activity. So again, within the guidelines there’s a strong emphasis on people — any size or shape, being physically active, are going to get health benefits from it.
Balintfy: I asked Dr. Galson how, with his busy schedule, he fits in physical activity. He agrees, it’s not easy…
Dr. Galson: It takes some effort to get physical activity. I do it really by making sure that if I don’t have time during my busy work week, I make time on the weekends. It’s really a matter of getting it into my schedule, and that’s, you know, I get up on a Saturday morning and if I’ve been traveling during the week and I haven’t been able to get good physical activity, I make sure to get that’s number one on my priority list for the weekend.
Balintfy: And it’s a long term commitment…
Dr. Galson: That’s right, and you can’t just do it for a few months. This has to be a permanent life changing type of schedule change for every American if we’re going to really keep up with the recommended levels of physical activity.
Balintfy: Thanks to Acting Surgeon General Dr. Steven Galson, and Dr. Bill Haskell, from Stanford University. For more on the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, visit this website: www.health.gov/PAguidelines. Also, be sure to tune in in two weeks. I’ll have more details on the guidelines for adults, as well as cancer survivors. Then in a month, details on the guidelines for older adults, and children and adolescents.
Balintfy: That’s it for this edition this episode of NIH Research Radio. Please join us again on February 20th when our next edition will be available for download. I'm your host, Joe Balintfy. Thanks for listening. NIH Research Radio is a presentation of the NIH Radio News Service, part of the News Media Branch, Office of Communications and Public Liaison in the Office of the Director at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, an agency of the US Department of Health and Human Services.