George Cunningham, Texas A&M University – Physical Activity and Climate Change Attitudes

On Texas A&M Center for Sports Management Research & Education Week: Changing attitudes toward global warming is hard.

George Cunningham, professor of graduate and professional studies, details one surprising way to do so.

George B. Cunningham (Ph.D., The Ohio State University) is a Professor and Sr. Assistant Provost for Graduate and Professional Studies at Texas A&M University. His research focus is on diversity and inclusion in sport and physical activity. He has published over 200 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters; has authored an award-winning book (Diversity in Sport Organizations); and has co-edited an award-winning book (Routledge Handbook of Theory in Sport Management). He is a member of the National Academy of Kinesiology.

Physical Activity and Climate Change Attitudes

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Being active has a number of benefits, including better fitness and cognitive functioning, a reduction of various diseases, and improved physical and mental health. Our recent research also points to another outcome of being active: climate change attitudes. Though there are certainly exceptions, most physical activity takes place outdoors. As a result, exercisers are able to enjoy nature and become more connected with their surroundings. We then reasoned that might be especially aware of the ways in which climate change could hinder their ability to be active. When they arrived at this conclusion, they might also advocate for new laws and policies. To examine these possibilities, we analyzed data from over 3100 counties across the US. In addition to collecting data related to physical activity and climate change attitudes, we accounted for other factors that might impact the results. These included the county residents’ access to physical activity, demographics, education, and voting patterns in the 2016 Presidential election. After accounting for these factors, we found that as physical activity increased, so too did county residents’ conviction that climate change personally impacted them. Personal harm beliefs were then related to their preference for stronger climate change policies. Based on these findings, we concluded that “activists, scientists, and policy-makers looking to shape public opinion around climate change should consider the sport and physical activity domain.”

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