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Wendy Reinhardt Kapsak, MS, RD, Senior Director, Health and Wellness, IFIC Foundation

Despite multiple efforts to assist Americans in achieving a healthy weight through a balanced diet and regular physical activity, only limited success in changing behavior has been attained.

While research shows that Americans desire to engage in healthful behaviors, they may initiate changes only over the short-term without establishing long-term habits. Further, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 highlights the lack of evidence regarding sustained behavior change to positively impact health. The Guidelines suggest interventions should go beyond providing traditional education, with increased focus on “building skills, reshaping the environment and re-establishing social norms to facilitate individuals’ healthy choices.” The Dietary Guidelines, as well as the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines and National Physical Activity Plan, state that a coordinated system-based approach, often illustrated by the social-ecological model, and partnerships would likely be most effective in promoting behavior change.

There is a pressing need to identify workable, science-based programs and actions that can be used by researchers, health professionals, policy makers and industry, among others, as they work together to motivate Americans to develop sustained, healthful diet and physical activity behaviors. To address this need, a partnership comprising the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS),  Agriculture (USDA) and the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation was formed. The partnership’s vision is to establish an ongoing dialogue to identify long-term strategies for motivating Americans to implement the latest diet and physical activity recommendations. This vision was inspired, in part, by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) 2008 meeting, Decision Making and Eating Behavior: Interactive Perspectives from the Individual, Family, and Environment.

On Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2012, the HHS-USDA-IFIC Foundation partnership held its first Expert Roundtable as part of the Motivating Individuals to Achieve Sustained Healthful Diet and Physical Activity Behaviors: A Stakeholder Dialogue. The Expert Roundtable convened more than 40 leaders in nutrition, physical activity, behavioral science and economics as well as policy and public health to 1) discuss behavioral science and its application to diet and physical activity behaviors and 2) identify long-term strategies for motivating Americans to implement dietary and physical activity guidance. More specifically, the Expert Roundtable dialogue:

              Explored key factors for initiating and sustaining behavior change using a social-ecological approach;

              Identified research, implementation, and evaluation gaps; and

              Determined priority action areas for further discussion and next steps for broadening the dialogue.

The insights provided during the Expert Roundtable will inform further partnership efforts, and the partnership hopes to share the Roundtable proceedings in the coming months.

What are your thoughts on the best ways to motivate healthful dietary and physical activity behaviors among Americans?

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