Active Living Research and the Movement for Healthy Communities

This commentary focuses on the need for community involvement at all levels of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Active Living Research (ALR) program. Of particular importance is involvement by and in communities of low socioeconomic status and/or communities with high proportions of ethnic and racial minorities. Although initial research has shown that both income and minority status can be associated with less active lifestyles, a stronger evidence base is needed to elucidate those relationships, and thus create policies that will be effective in addressing needs of those communities. The author points out that, in general, communities of disadvantaged people are understudied, with the result of "one size fits all" conclusions that are not applicable across ethnicities and classes.

Although the ALR program has prioritized the needs of communities at high risk of obesity, much work remains to be done. In the future, it will be vital to avoid strictly top-down approaches when building coalitions to address physical activity levels in underserved communities. Lastly, the author points out that physical activity levels and unhealthy behaviors in these communities are problems that affect our entire society. The effects of chronic poor health in these communities ripple out to everyone, in the form of health care costs, workforce productivity, consumer spending and numerous other ways.