$2.8 Million Public-Private Partnership To Examine How Surroundings Can Encourage Active Lifestyles
A new $2.8 million effort, partnering public and private funding
agencies, will examine how better community design encourages people
to be more physically active in their daily lives. Researchers will
identify how our built environment contributes to obesity and how
environmental changes can combat a growing public health problem.
"We need to be as creative and inventive as we can to encourage
Americans to make physical activity a part of their daily lives,"
Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson said. "This
new partnership is one more example of how we are working to promote
physical activity and improve public health."
The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences is paying
for the five-year evaluation of communities located across the U.S.
to assess the impact on physical activity and obesity of local design
and transportation changes. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's
Active Living by Design Program is supporting 25 community partnerships
to develop and implement collaboration among a variety of organizations
in public health and other disciplines, such as city planning, transportation,
architecture, recreation, crime prevention, traffic safety and education,
as well as key groups concentrating on land use, public transit,
non-motorized travel, public spaces, parks, trails, and architectural
practices that advance physical activity.
The program establishes innovative approaches to increase physical
activity through community design and communications strategies.
The NIEHS will examine the program's impact on physical activity,
obesity, and other health indicators. Results from these 25 communities
will be compared against communities that haven't improved their
surroundings to encourage physical activity.
The built environment encompasses buildings like houses, schools,
and workplaces; industrial or residential land uses; public areas
like parks and museums; zoning regulations and transportation systems.
"We'd like to determine if simple changes in the built environment
and in individual behavior can enhance physical activity and reduce
obesity for residents," said Dr. Kenneth Olden, director of
the NIEHS, which is the public agency funding the effort. "Local
municipalities could then look at the results and determine if modifying
the built environment might affect the public's health and reduce
health care costs."
The World Health Organization declared excess weight as one of the
top ten health risks in the world. The U.S. is no exception to the
epidemic, 64 percent of American adults are either overweight or
obese. Obesity, like most chronic health problems, is caused by
complex interactions between genetic, environmental, and behavioral
The Surgeon General's "Call to Action to Prevent and Decrease
Overweight and Obesity" (2001) pointed out that multidimensional
communication, research, and evaluation would be needed to reverse
the obesity epidemic. Environmental factors provide the greatest
opportunity for actions and interventions designed for prevention
and treatment of obesity, and behavior change can occur only in
a supportive environment with accessible and affordable healthy
food choices and opportunities for regular physical activity. For
these reasons, the NIEHS has entered into a collaborative relationship
with The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to evaluate how environmental
interventions impact individual weight management.
One practical intervention is to modify the environmental contributors
responsible for the majority of the obesity epidemic, such as food
availability, sedentary lifestyles and behaviors, and the built
environment. "Community design and limited transportation choice
often prevent people from leading physically active lives,"
said Richard Killingsworth, director of Active Living by Design.
"The partnership with NIEHS will allow us to identify how design
and transportation can increase active living for everyone young
"The value of these community partnerships goes beyond the
physical infrastructure" said Kate Kraft, senior program officer
at The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. "This pioneering program
is more than just adding trails and sidewalks but investing in diverse
partnerships that bring together citizens, local government and
the private sector to build physical activity back into our communities.
By creating and promoting environments that support physical activity,
we can expand the opportunities for people to tackle obesity."
Physical activity can reduce the risk of a wide variety of chronic
and acute illnesses including cardiovascular disease, stroke, high
blood pressure, diabetes, colon cancer, obesity, depression, back
pain and osteoporosis. Research shows that physical inactivity is
a primary cause of overweight and obesity in the U.S.
"Less than half of all Americans reach the recommended amount
of physical activity," said Dr. Allen Dearry, NIEHS associate
director. "By looking at these communities around the country,
we'll be able to better understand the relationship among the built
environment, physical activity and obesity."
Part of the National Institutes of Health, NIEHS supports research
to understand the effects of the environment on human health.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, based in Princeton, N.J., is
the nation's largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to health
and health care.
Located at the University of North Carolina's School of Public
Health at Chapel Hill, the Active Living by Design Program was established
to increase physical activity through the built environment.
For more information, go to:
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences at www.niehs.nih.gov
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation at www.rwjf.org
Active Living by Design at www.activelivingbydesign.org