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Opinion: Combat Inactivity with Full Passage of PHIT

At the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA), we have a long history of keeping communities active and engaged. Our more than 60,000 members represent the local park and recreation centers that provide physical activity opportunities to families and individuals who want to improve or maintain their overall health and wellness. Despite these and other opportunities, as a nation, we have lost sight of the critical value of physical activity to our health and well-being and find ourselves in a devastating downward spiral into the highest rates of chronic disease and crippling health care costs ever seen in our country’s history. The time to address this crisis is now.

One in four Americans currently has a chronic disease, many of which are preventable, and we currently spend 18 percent of our gross domestic product (GDP) on medical expenditures, with estimates signifying this will rise to 20 percent by 2022. Inactivity is at the crux of this issue and we not only need to reverse this trend, but also to create a culture of activity — a system that values activity and offers opportunities for all to participate. Diet and exercise are the foundations of a more sustainable healthcare system, and we must do all we can to promote activity to create a healthier culture in America.

The inactivity pandemic is a deadly and costly problem:

  • In a survey of 300,000 people, inactivity was found to be responsible for twice as many early deaths as obesity.

  • Inactive adults pay $1,500 more per year in healthcare costs and take 1 additional week in sick days annually than active adults.

  • More people die from inactivity each year in the United States than from smoking.

Congress has come around to understanding that activity is a crucial component of a healthy lifestyle, and that it plays a central role in preventing chronic conditions. More importantly, wellness and prevention are a primary focus of Congress as it seeks to improve our current health care model. Reducing the incidence of chronic conditions is the key to sustainable health care in America, and now, through the Personal Health Investment Today (PHIT) Act (S. 482/H.R. 1267), Congress has the power to address this crisis by ensuring more Americans have access to physical activity opportunities, like those offered at park and recreation facilities nationwide.   

Related: In Historic Vote, U.S. House of Representatives Passes the PHIT Act

NRPA, in partnership with countless other groups, has advocated on behalf of the PHIT Act for nearly a decade, and for good reason. If enacted, the PHIT Act would allow families to use their pre-tax medical accounts — i.e., Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) or Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) — to pay for the costs of accessing activity, such as nominal charges for programs and registration fees for sports leagues. There are currently more than 30 million households with pre-tax medical accounts, and, conservatively, each account serves three family members. When the PHIT Act becomes law, 90 million Americans will have access to pre-tax funds for physical activity expenses and will be able to receive a 25 to 40 percent discount on active lifestyle costs. This is an idea that is widely supported by Americans. A survey conducted by NRPA reveals that two in three Americans support being able to use HSA or FSA money to pay for physical activity expenses.    

Similarly, the PHIT Act is extremely popular in Congress, with more than 135 bipartisan co-sponsors in the House (71D-64R) and 16 (9R-6D-1I) in the Senate. Furthermore, the PHIT Act has more co-sponsors than any other health care-related tax bill — and support continues to grow. On June 12, members of the House Ways & Means Committee passed a modified version of the PHIT Act, with a vote of 28-7 with six Democrats joining all the Republicans on the committee to approve the bill. It will now move to the House floor for a vote, expected the week of July 23, and we ask everyone to join us in advocating for the PHIT Act to become law.

We all have a lot to gain from reducing the barriers to physical activity and supporting the creation of a more active, healthier culture. We should do it not only for our own health, but also for the health of our families, and, most importantly, the health of our communities and country. Tell Congress the time to pass the PHIT Act is now.


Kellie May is director of health and wellness with the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA).

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