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Taking Steps Toward Health Equity Through Physical Activity

NiCole R. Keith

Health equity will be achieved when all demographics have a fair opportunity be healthy. This essay describes the possibility of achieving health equity through physical activity. It presents the social ecological model of physical activity and describes how both microenvironmental and macroenvironmental factors influence one’s ability to participate. There is then a description of watershed moments in American history that negatively influenced the ability of certain demographics to be active today. It then describes groups participating in less physical activity when compared to others. Several public health and political science models are then suggested with specific examples of how they have been implemented in the past to improve health or physical activity. The essay ends by describing the need to build the physical activity evidence among vulnerable populations that tend to be underrepresented in research and explains best practices in engaging these populations in investigative work.

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Kinesiology’s Social Justice Imperative

Bradley J. Cardinal

Kinesiology is a field focused on physical activity and its impact on health, society, and quality of life. But do all people have equal opportunities to access and experience physical activity? Do physical activity settings allow people to freely express themselves? Are the benefits of physical activity universally shared by all people? If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” then these questions demand not only our immediate attention, but also our collective action. During the National Academy of Kinesiology’s 90th anniversary meeting, September 22–24, 2021, these questions and others were explored through presentations devoted to the theme “Kinesiology’s Social Justice Imperative.” This essay overviews the meeting, its purpose, and the organizers and introduces the 11 thematic papers in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Kinesiology’s 2021 Meeting: Kinesiology’s Social Justice Imperative” issue, plus a 12th essay commemorating the National Academy of Kinesiology’s 90th anniversary meeting.

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The National Academy of Kinesiology: Its Founding, Focus, and Future

Bradley J. Cardinal

This essay commemorates the National Academy of Kinesiology’s 90th anniversary meeting, even though the first meeting of fellows of an “[American] Academy of Physical Education” occurred in 1904, some 118 years ago. Clark W. Hetherington, Robert Tait McKenzie, William Burdick, Thomas A. Storey, and Jay B. Nash met in October 1926 to reignite the Academy of yesteryear. On December 31, 1930, just 14 months and 1 week into the Great Depression, they and 24 others formally launched what the Academy has become today. “Clearly, they were a bold, hearty, and optimistic group. Their determination, inspiration, and perspiration remain guiding lights for us to this day!” This essay aims to demystify and humanize the Academy by sharing stories of how it was formed and how it continues to inform all those working in kinesiology and related fields through its distinguished Fellows, one of whom is a Nobel Laureate.

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Inclusion of Individuals With Overweight/Obesity in Physical Activity Settings

Paul Bernard Rukavina

The deleterious effects of weight bias in physical activity spaces for children, adolescents, and adults are well documented. Different types of weight bias occur, and they interact at multiple levels within a person’s ecology, from the messaging of often unattainable sociocultural thin/muscular ideals and physical inequities (e.g., equipment not appropriate for body shapes and sizes) to interpersonal and public discriminatory comments. However, the most damaging is the internalization and application of negative weight-bias stereotypes by those with overweight and obesity to themselves. An imperative for social justice is now; there is great need to advocate for, provide support for, and design inclusive physical activity spaces to reduce weight bias so that all individuals feel welcome, accept their bodies, and are empowered to live a healthy, active lifestyle. To make this a reality, an interdisciplinary and preventive approach is needed to understand bias and how to minimize it in our spaces.

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Race, Cardiovascular Disease, and Vascular Health

Michael D. Brown and Dulce H. Gomez

Non-Hispanic Blacks (NHB) have a greater prevalence cardiovascular disease (CVD) and CVD risk factors, and they appear at an earlier age compared with non-Hispanic Whites. Impaired vascular function is a major contributing factor to CVD risk, and NHB have impaired vascular function compared with non-Hispanic Whites. In addition to the known biological factors, socioeconomic and environmental determinants of CVD are particularly important for NHB. Chronic exposure to racial discrimination (racialized stress) throughout the lifespan represents an allostatic load whereby the stress-response mechanism is activated repeatedly. This activates the central nervous system and other physiological systems that can cause CVD. High allostatic scores are associated with being NHB or Hispanic. The purpose of this review article is to describe the racial health disparities in the CVDs, the social determinants of CVD disparities, and how racial discrimination impacts them.

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Female Testosterone: Contested Terrain

Vikki Krane, Emma Calow, and Brandy Panunti

World Athletics policy narrowly defines female athletes, creating contested bodies in elite sport. Framed by feminist cultural studies and transfeminism, we discuss the eligibility rules and their real-life impact. Women with naturally elevated endogenous testosterone (hyperandrogenism) are being treated as if they are cheating. That high testosterone in female bodies has been deemed an unfair competitive advantage is consistent with dominant cultural narratives rather than the research about testosterone and sport performance. Applying an intersectional lens, it becomes clear that race, region, class, and nation intersect so that women athletes from the Global South are disproportionately affected by the eligibility regulations. This creation of contested bodies has led to critical mental and physical health outcomes. Cherry-picking one biological component of a body as the cause of exceptional performance in elite sport is irresponsible. Instead, we need education, compassion, and to follow sound science grounded in moral and ethical research.

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“Teaching to Transgress”: Race and a Pedagogy of Empowerment in Kinesiology

Ketra L. Armstrong

The legacy of racism and anti-Blackness that permeates society also permeates higher education, creating marginalizing experiences for many Black students. With few exceptions, critical discussions about race in kinesiology are lacking, or race talk is oppressive, negotiated as “safe talk,” and/or often silent and masked in race neutrality, racial coding, and color blindness. Consequently, a “quiet game” is in session in many kinesiology classrooms. However, racial silence has different meanings and effects on people of color. For Black students, race is often a salient part of their history, story, and lived experiences; consequently, it often impacts their learning inspiration and aspirations. This essay discusses the concept of “learning while Black” and illustrates ways in which kinesiology may “teach to transgress” racial oppression by intentionally and boldly embracing education as a practice of freedom, imparting race into a pedagogy of empowerment.

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Achieving a Socially Just Society: Kinesiology’s Role and Responsibility in Disrupting the Status Quo

Karen P. DePauw

Social justice can be defined in different ways, but the principles providing the foundation/framework include access, equity, and fairness; respect for diversity; participation/engagement; and basic human rights. As an academic discipline and professional practice (field), kinesiology has an important role to play in achieving a socially just society. Social change is about not only disrupting the status quo, but also transformational change and moving toward access, equity, and inclusion. Three narratives reflect upon the ways in which kinesiology and adapted physical activity have disrupted—and must continue to disrupt—the status quo to progress toward a socially just society: reflections of marginality, sport, and social constructs of body and ability; ableism and evolution of adapted physical activity; kinesiology and its responsibility for a sustainable future and socially just society. Although progress has been made, there is still more work to be done.

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Kinesiology: Moving Toward Social Justice?

Diane L. Gill

The theme of the 2021 National Academy of Kinesiology meeting and this special issue, “Kinesiology’s Social Justice Imperative,” suggests we are moving toward social justice. In this paper, I look at kinesiology’s social justice movement over the nearly 100 years of the Academy. More specifically, I consider the representation of women and racial minorities (specifically Black/African Americans) in kinesiology and the Academy throughout our history and social factors related to the changes (or lack thereof) in representation. To move toward social justice, we must learn from that history, highlight the social, and connect with our communities and professionals.

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The Human Genome, Physical Activity, Fitness, and Health

Claude Bouchard

A summary of the evidence for a contribution of genetic variability to physical activity–related traits is presented. The availability of a reference human DNA sequence has made it possible to screen individuals and populations for the presence of genomic differences. Even though more than 100 million DNA variants have been identified, human beings share a genomic sequence, which is more than 99% identical. Four major lessons can be derived from ongoing genomic and genetic studies. First, the connection between a genotype and a phenotype is highly complex. Second, the expression of genes is regulated via multiple interacting mechanisms. Third, redundancy and compensatory mechanisms are ubiquitous. Fourth, complex, multifactorial traits are influenced by polygenic systems defined by hundreds and thousands of loci with most alleles characterized by very small effect sizes. The contribution of genetic variability is briefly summarized for human longevity, common chronic diseases, physical activity level, cardiorespiratory fitness in the sedentary state, and in response to exercise programs.